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TO know the truth concerning any great event it is 
necessary to know the atmosphere in which it took 
place. Divorced from its native air it is changed out of 
recognition and becomes a dead fact as compared with a 
living reality. 

The war is too near as yet for treatment from the 
strictly historical point of view ; but already we are in 
process of forgetting the feelings which we experienced 
during those early days of war, when the world was still 
" new to the game." These feelings are of vital im 
portance, and will remain so. It is certainly true, for 
example, that a record of the emotions awakened by the 
great days of the Marne and Aisne is essential to a true 
conception of these days and to a proper understanding 
of their significance. 

One of the chief objects of this volume is, therefore, 
the realisation of some of these emotions as the author 
himself experienced them, and as they were experienced 
by his friends. He has drawn very freely upon his 
friends 7 experiences, because one man, after all, sees only 
an infinitesimal part of this " game of war." To these 
friends, acknowledged and unacknowledged, he offers 
his thanks. 

LONDON, January, 1916 




I. A NIGHT OF HEROES . . . 17 









XI. PARIS ...... 173 







XV. FREEDOM S GATE . . . . 236 


XVII. "TOMMY" . . . . .264 





ENTRENCHING . . To face page go 


GERMAN SNIPERS . ,, ,, 176 



A SPY . 256 

BRITISH SNIPERS . . , ? ,, 272 




THE scene is a cafe in the Boulevard Waterloo in 
Brussels and the hour is midnight, the midnight 
between August 5th and 6th, 1914. The cafe is full 
of men and women : men of the suburbs in morning 
dress, with round, heavy faces, and men of the shaggy 
bearded type that denotes the Fleming, men in uniforms, 
the dark blue of the infantry and the green of the cavalry. 
The women are for the most part of the less reputable 
order, but they are more soberly dressed than we might 
have expected with a few exceptions and they do not 
seem to care s so much to-night what impression they 
make upon the cavaliers who accompany them. 

They are excited, those women, with the feverish, 
nervous excitement which belongs to stress of emotion. 
They laugh nervously, and their laughter has a strange, 
unnatural ring in it. They have lost their coquettishness, 
most of them, and so you are able to see their drabness 
beneath their guise of opulence. They are become for 
the hour human and real, and the transformation is not 
without its pathos. 


The men and the women are talking volubly, gesticu 
lating with their hands in the manner peculiar to the 
Latin races. Some of the men are drawing little maps 
upon the white marble tops of the tables, and the women 
are bending over them to follow the demonstration ; 
the maps show, all of them, one point marked " L " with 
a ring of tiny circles surrounding it, and a long line, bent 
like a half moon, approaching towards it. If you listen 
you will hear the explanation of it all in the rough ac 
cents of the north. " That is Liege, that point marked 
with the capital L. And this ring of circles is the 
ring of the forts the forts which Leman is holding now, 
at this moment, against the War Machine of the Kaiser. 
The half-moon is the German army." " But," says a 
woman s voice, " why do the Germans not pass between 
the forts ? " * 

" The infantry is entrenched there : and the guns of 
the forts command the ground." 

This last remark is overheard by a man in uniform 
sitting near, and he approaches to join in the discussion. 
He is a Belgian officer, and to-day it is well to belong to 
that company- -to-day for the first time for a whole 
century. His light grey eyes, which recall the eyes of 
the slow, sure men of the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts, are 
alight with a pride that is quite new and strangely 

He strikes an attitude it is only boyish and charming, 
and has no " swagger in it and launches forth upon 
the great story which Liege has sent to Brussels this very 
afternoon, and which Brussels, with trembling joy, has 
sent out to the ends of the world for a testimony to her 

At another table an old man in the uniform of the 


Civil Guard is discussing the policy of the Government 
with deep earnestness. But his face is full of joy as he 
speaks. " The Government did their duty," he says, 
" and Liege has proved it. The German bubble " that 
is the word he uses again and again " has burst. The 
War Machine moves so smoothly that a single grain of 
grit in the wheels works disaster." He brings his fist down 
upon the table then with a bang which causes many heads 
to be turned in his direction. He raises his glass and 
drinks. It is damnation to the Germans which he is 
toasting. He has already drunk a good deal and his mind 
is not so clear as might be ; but his hatred burns with a 
good, steady flame. After a few moments he rises to his 
feet and begins to speak in a loud, slightly thick voice. 
Cheers greet his words ; he is encouraged, he speaks 
louder, he shouts, and still the cheers approve him. 
Suddenly he sits down again as if a little surprised at his 
enthusiasm, and another man thrusts himself upon 
public attention. 

The heat in the place is suffocating, and the smell of 
beer and spirits and food the curious penetrating smell 
of ham cause a feeling of revulsion. The room is 
ablaze with light, and the roof is full of tobacco smoke 
which hangs like a pall over the company. Men and 
women come and go the same kind of men and the 
same types of women. The talk continues in an un 
ceasing flood, the same talk of victory and violence. 
Women clench their little hands and utter words of hate 
in jubilant voices ; they are more patriotic than the 
men, these women of doubtful reputation, and much 
more bloodthirsty. Sometimes they seem like wolves 
in their bitter fury. But at other moments they are a 
sorrowful spectacle because one does not expect honest 


emotion of any of them. And they are in deadly earnest 

Suddenly a diversion occurs ; a motor-car has stopped 
at the door and a young officer, muddied from head to 
foot, has entered the cafe. It is whispered, guessed, 
believed in a breath that he is from the front. He is 
surrounded in a moment and a hundred questions are 
put to him. He cannot answer all of them manifestly, 
and so he smiles, the slow smile of his race which has 
always something of the sorrowful in its gaiety. " From 
the front, yes, from Liege. . . . No, Liege still holds 
and the slaughter goes on merrily enough. . . . The 
stacks of German dead mount up ... so. ... (He 
raised his hand in a quick gesture full of complacency.) 
The guns are not yet satisfied, and the banquet is not yet 
over. . . ." 

He fights his way through the crowd towards the back 
of the room where are some empty tables. He is still 
greatly good-natured but tired evidently. The crowd 
surges behind him still asking him questions. He seats 
himself with legs extended ; the glint of his spurs, where 
the mud has spared them, is like a beacon to the women. 
They surround him ; some of the bolder throw their arms 
round his neck and one of them kisses him to his con 
fusion. A woman s voice is heard singing the first lines 
of the Brabanc.onne, and instantly the whole company 
begins to sing. The young knight joins himself in what 
is of the nature of an accolade. Then people from the 
street crowd in to find out what is the matter, and the 
door becomes blocked with a mass of people which 
extends right out into the roadway as though some 
monster were spewing out human beings from its 
extended jaws. All are singing and waving hats and hand- 


kerchiefs, and half of them do not know why they are 
doing it. 

Out in the street a great moon is riding high above 
the towers of Brussels the towers which rose up to 
meet the moons of years as full of storm and danger as 
this one the towers which rang out, a hundred years ago, 
the wonderful message of Waterloo. The great boule 
vard is nearly empty, and the smell of the tarred road 
is heavy on this sultry August night. Outside the cafes 
there are little knots of people who stand talking to one 
another as if reluctant to end their conversation ; a 
woman passes on the arm of a soldier, a painted woman 
with red lips and expressionless eyes. But she also 
is talking about the war to-night. Down the great 
sweep of the roadway a motor-car with its exhaust-pipe 
open rushes as though the fate of the nation hung upon 
its mere speed. It is full of officers in gold-slashed 
uniforms, old men with swords held between their knees. 
A gendarme moves slowly along the pavement exchanging 
greetings with the passers-by. 

There is an ale shop over the way near the Royal palace. 
The ale shop is full of soldiers who have been brought 
to the great square in front of the Hotel Flandre. Their 
rifles, with bayonets fixed, are stacked in little groups of 
three in the square. The men are going up to the front, 
they say, in the morning. They are big fellows, some 
bearded, some clean-shaven. The bearded men have a 
stern appearance which is belied by their kind expres 
sions ; the boys are of the English type, fair-haired and 
open-faced. Most of them speak Flemish, but there are 
a few Walloons in the regiment. They too talk inces 
santly of the news from Liege of the forts and the 
slaughter of the massed Germans on the glacis, and of 


Leman and the King who told his people that Caesar said 
the Belgians were the bravest race in Gaul. It is a bare 
and dirty little room with sawdust on the floor and cigar- 
reek in the atmosphere. There are wooden benches for 
the customers with wooden tables in front of them, 
stained by many a catastrophe. The ale is from Munich, 
dark and good, but to-night it is called Belgian beer 
with a wink at the potman and a broad smile into the 
pewter tankard that holds it. 

Listen to the talk of those men and you will gather a 
little of what this day has meant to the nation that 
yesterday was called scornfully an " arrangement." They 
are telling one another that Belgium has been born again 
or rather born anew. They confess to the first stirrings 
of nationality ; they speak no longer of their differences, 
but of their union. Some of them at least, for many are 
too tired to speak, and others of the peasant class have 
little knowledge of the meaning of events. They are a 
very curious people, very childlike and simple. They 
hold the simplest ideas. Germany on this night is beaten 
and the end of the war is in sight. Belgium has van 
quished Germany. 

It is in vain that the little Frenchman who has found 
himself in the company expostulates, declaring that 
the German blow has not yet fallen and that the future 
is dark as night. They smile with vast incredulity, or 
they are indifferent. They have the peasant sense of 
man against man, and some of them know the German 
and despise him. The Flanders peasant is a big man and 
a simple man, and his ideas are simple. Being better men 
than the Germans, it is natural that they should defeat 
the Germans. They will go on defeating them. 

There is a long road leading out through the suburbs 


of the city towards the east. The moon looking down 
upon this road discovers the march of armed men and 
touches a thousand bayonets with her silver. Men, and 
still more men, white-faced and stern in the dim light, 
move with the swift hours towards the place where death 
has put in his scythe for the great reaping, drawn by 
some strange chemiotaxis, as it seems. The windows of 
the suburban houses gleam out garishly against the moon. 
In the houses are well-dressed men and women who have 
sat up late to watch the road and to rejoice over the 
news. They are less gay than the throng in the cafes, 
those people, and less simple than the soldiers in the tavern, 
but their joy and their pride are not less. The first news 
from Liege has caught them also as it caught the world 
like an inspiration. They cannot rest in this hour of their 
country s glory. 

So windows are thrown open even in the darkness and 
flowers that have no colour and no perfume under the 
moon are cast out upon the marching men. You may 
hear now and again the far strains of the Braban^onne, 
and sometimes the chant rises very near to you and is 
taken up from open windows by hidden figures that have 
gazed out during hours upon the road. The soldiers 
come and go no man knows whence or whither. Along 
the railway lines strange lights may be seen moving and 
great trains roll continually eastward. The troops which 
a day or two ago held the frontiers the French frontier 
and the frontier of the sea, as well as that between 
Belgium and Germany are being pressed into a single 
army ; an army of barely two hundred thousand men, 
to face the greatest army which ever moved across the 
face of the world. 

It is a night of heroes this perhaps the most wonderful 


night in history. Around you men are hurrying to the 
scenes of death, hurrying in trains and in motor-cars, 
afoot and on horseback. All the engines of man s making 
have been pressed into the service of destruction ; they 
pant and storm towards their goal, shrilling through the 
quiet woods as though death were a carnival, not an hour 
of which might be lost. 

In the trains are men who have never known war and 
have not yet learned to fear it. Home-loving men whose 
military duties have consisted in guarding a palace or a 
Senate house, and who have not so much as dreamed that 
this day awaited them. Very young men for the most 
part, but a few of them the husbands of wives and the 
fathers of children. They do not wish this thing ; their 
hearts are sick with loathing of it. 

The trains rumble away ; at last the cafes are closed 
and the streets emptied. The empty streets resound to 
your footfalls, and you can hear the dull flapping of the 
flags overhead which do honour to the glory of Liege. 
Before you is the vast bulk of the Palace of Justice, and 
stretching away below the ancient city with its exqui 
site town hall and its splendid place. Scarcely a sound 
disturbs the peace of the scene. Brussels has grown 
tired even in her triumph ; to-morrow will be the greatest 
day in all her years, and she must prepare herself against 
it and against the terror which will follow w r hen the 
embers of victory are cold. 


BECAUSE the Germans failed to bring up their 
heavy guns to the first assault against Liege, the 
forts held out and the town was not taken. When the 
big guns came the error was rectified. But the error 
remained nevertheless like a millstone around the Ger 
man neck. It cost time and it cost reputation. Out of 
the German error came a new Belgium united and de 
termined, flushed with confidence and confirmed in 
courage and determination. 

The new Belgium was born in a night August 5th- 
6th. In the morning Brussels had become another kind 
of city from the Brussels of the history books and the 
Brussels of the tourist. The change was not, perhaps, 
immediately apparent, but it was real. If you have seen 
a boy addressed for the first time as a man you have seen 
the kind of change I mean ; the exact change is perhaps 
paralleled when a weaker man defeats a stronger through 
sheer force of desperation. 

I stood that morning in the great square by the Hotel 
de Ville and watched the scene for a long time. A strange 
scene it was in this peaceful city. In front of the Hotel de 
Ville with its marvellous gold tracery, paced on sentry 
duty a member of the civil guard who had been a business 
man in London a week ago a chubby-faced boy with 



a merry smile and charming manners. But he was a 
man now, a Belgian. In the great courtyard a cavalry 
regiment was awaiting orders. The horses stood in 
groups on the side of the yard, their beautiful coats 
gleaming in the sunlight. People stopped and pressed 
into the archway to look at them and to talk to the sol 
diers who lounged about smoking cigarettes. Market 
women had their barrows in the square barrows laden 
with vegetables from the rich country around Alost and 
Ghent, with great masses of blossom, red and white roses 
and carnations that perfumed the atmosphere. Business 
was brisk on this gay morning and the buyers plentiful. 
In the course of their buying they would often look up 
where the flag of Belgium floated lazily on its flagstaff 
above the hall. They smiled when they looked up. 
The newsboys ran amongst them selling the morning 
papers ; the long-drawn shouting of the names of the 
papers mingled pleasantly with the clamour of the mart. 
Men bought edition after edition and read the news 
with eager, strained faces. They passed the papers on 
to their friends when their own anxiety had been satisfied. 
The game of war was a merry game when one was 
winning it. The war machine looked less dreadful on 
that morning than ever before or since. All the people, 
the boy on guard who had been a clerk in London town, 
the soldiers who smoked the cigarettes while their horses 
fretted, the market women with their bare arms and 
ugly sunburnt faces, the men who loitered to read the 
latest news, all of them were becoming a part of the 
organisation which is called warfare ; already the moods 
and emotions of yesterday were dead things. A vast 
complexity of emotions, the noble emotions of patriot 
ism and love of home, of self-sacrifice and honour, and the 


baser feelings of hatred and anger, assailed them. Fear 
too and pride vied with one another for the mastery of 
their spirits. At one moment they laughed like boys at 
a game ; at the next their faces were overcast with a 
great shadow of doubt and foreboding. Sometimes 
they seemed to struggle for breath as the future pre 
sented itself in all its horror : again a brighter view sug 
gested a more cheerful mood. 

Watch the face of this people in its hour of crisis and 
you will gain the knowledge that it is in fact a strong 
and united people with the soul of a nation. The im 
pression will come to you slowly, but it will abide. You 
will think as you look that a word spoken might have 
saved all the anxiety which is already so manifest. If 
the Germans had been given leave to march through 
Belgium there would have been no anxiety, no terror, 
no death ; prosperity would have walked with the 
marching armies, and even afterwards the reckoning 
would not have been over-burdensome. A word spoken 
might have spared all this blood and agony at Liege and 
the longer agony of mothers and wives waiting as Belgian 
women never waited before in living memory for news of 
their men folk. You will think too that there was a strong 
Germanic strain in this people and that therefore capitu 
lation was made easier than it could have been in any 
other land. 

Why was the word which might have won these ad 
vantages left unspoken then ? Why was it that upon 
Monday morning before the sun was up over the city 
the Government of Belgium had decided to defy the 
bully whose threats they had heard for the first time 
at sunset on Sunday ? Why did the people accept the 
sentence of " honour or death so gladly in street and 


cafe the people who knew all the power of Germany 
and all the terror of her arms ? If you ask the grave- 
faced burghers who pass in and out of the Town Hall 
on this morning of mornings they will tell you. 

They will point to the men and women in the Square 
and bid you note the type the type which in the dim 
past disputed this land with Caesar ; which bled and 
died for it at one time or another against the Spaniard, 
the Austrian and the Frenchman. " Belgium," they 
will say, " has always been conquered but never beaten ; 
the spirit of the nation survives a thousand tyrannies. 
In everything we are divided save in one thing our love 
of liberty. Yesterday we were Catholics and Socialists, 
Walloons and Flemings. To-day we are Belgians." 

I thought as I wandered through the streets and 
watched the thousandfold activities of the city that 
this stand of Belgium against the German was one of the 
great miracles of history. It was a stand like that of 
Horatius at the Bridge over the Tiber, like that of the 
stripling David against the giant of Gath. Infinitely 
sorrowful these happy streets were, for who that knew 
the strength of the foe could doubt the issue ? One 
seemed to see the days of blood and ruin that lay ahead 
like a thunder-cloud upon the horizon. I remembered 
another day, years before, when I stood on the quayside 
at Kiel and watched the German Fleet steaming into 
the harbour, the long grey ships looking like a menace 
even in those remote hours and yet another day in 
Hamburg when I sat in a cafe on the Alster and listened 
to the pure doctrine of Pan-Germanism from the lips 
of a colonel of infantry. Brussels lay like a sheep on the 
butcher s trestle ; the knife that was sharpened for her 
slaughter had been made ready these many years. 


Yet the glory and triumph lost nothing of their splen 
dour because they were set against a background of 
gloom. Those who have seen a bull-fight in one of the 
great Spanish rings, Madrid or Seville, know that the 
only great moment of the spectacle is provided when the 
doors of the arena are opened and the little Andalusian 
bull trots slowly out to his death-fight. At that moment 
he stands as the type of a good warrior, and the strength 
and vigour of him are pleasant to see ; at that moment 
he is a noble thing with, as it seems, a noble purpose in 
life. Later, as he reels bleeding from the horrible work 
of butchery which is forced upon him, the beauty and 
the strength are destroyed. Anger and hate have stepped 
naked from their cloak of romance and the business is 
revealed in all its sickening cruelty and disgust. 

So it was, I think, with Belgium. On that Thursday 
morning you saw a people stripped for battle, for the 
battle of life against death, freedom against tutelage. 
Already the first blows had been struck, and because the 
conflict was still an equal one the honours remained 
with the little nation. But the hours of disaster ap 
proached hot-foot, the hours when this people must 
wither beneath iron heels and bleed to death at the hands 
of merciless conquerors. 

There is a by-street running between the old town 
in the hollow and the new Brussels on the hill, a mean 
street with a car line laid along its upper length and the 
houses of poor artisans facing one another farther down. 
At the end of the street is a shop where are sold little 
religious trinkets (" Bondieullerie as they are called 
prettily) and religious books. I was looking in at the 
window of the shop at a great white crucifix in ivory 
which filled the whole frontage when I heard for the 


first time the voice of war in all its realism and bitterness. 
It was the shrill scream of a woman I heard, and the 
sound rings yet in my memory as something strange and 
horrible, more strange and more horrible because of its 
association with the white figure upon the great white 

People in the street began to run as soon as the shriek 
was heard ; as men and women will always run when a 
human drama of real human interest is afoot : I fol 
lowed them ; a crowd was gathered close at hand round 
a couple of men who seemed to be engaged in the work 
of dragging some heavy body along the pavement. The 
men were policemen, and between them they held a 
woman by the arms. The woman had thrown herself 
back and was therefore in a reclining posture with her 
legs stuck out in front of her on the pavement. Her face 
was as pale as ashes, and her eyes seemed to be starting 
from her head. At intervals she uttered the piercing 
shriek which I had heard a moment before. 

She was a fat woman with fair hair and ear-rings. 
Her ear-rings were jewelled and they sparkled pleasantly 
in the sunlight. Her nose was broad, and being almost 
bloodless, had a waxy look like the nose of a dead person. 
There was a little blood on her lips because she had cut 
one of them in her struggle with the police. Her cloth 
ing was torn too and a white round shoulder was exposed 
through one of the rents. She was fashionably dressed, 
too fashionably, and the powder which had recently 
covered her face was smeared over a black necktie she 

The policemen were big men ; they did not relish 
this new work which had been forced upon them. 
Their faces wore strange, puzzled expressions. It was 


brutal work even though the woman was a spy, and they 
were, clearly, ashamed of it. But the work had to be 
done in the name of war. The crowd felt at first just 
as the policemen did. There were young men in the 
crowd and also old men who might be grandfathers ; 
there were women and young children. The crowd 
hesitated a moment because its instincts were against 
the rules of war and the work which war exacts of those 
who wage it. 

And then a shrill voice shrieked out the words " espionne 
allemande " and followed them with a bitter imprecation. 
In a minute the attitude of crowd and policemen 

Faces already soft with pity grew flint hard. Out 
of the shame they felt, men became more brutal. An 
angry growl, like the growl of a wild beast that is 
hungry, escaped their lips ; the little fists of women, 
fists adorned with rings and bangles, were thrust into 
the face of this other woman and terrible threats rang 
in her ears. 

" Kill her, shoot her, tear her to pieces," shrieked these 
women who, but yesterday, would have ministered to 
her had she fainted in the same place. " Away with her, 53 
said the men. " She s not fit to live." 

A taxicab was called ; screaming and kicking the 
woman was hoisted up and deposited inside of it. I 
heard her screams as the cab drove away : as the cab 
drove away a young girl with a pretty face shook her 
fist at it ; you could see the light of hatred shining in 
her eyes. She turned aside and her eyes fell upon the 
face of Christ hanging in His agony upon the cross. 
She paused a moment. She crossed herself ; she shud 


Do not blame these honest Belgian people because it 
is of war that we tell. Of war which is the negation of 
kindness and the sepulchre of pity. Rather pass into 
the church so near at hand and listen to the murmur of 
women s prayers for men, which is the other side of this 
terrible kaleidoscope of noble and base, strong and weak, 
sweet and bitter. The women are kneeling in a little 
circle before an image of the Virgin which looks down 
at them coldly from its white pedestal ; there are little 
tapers in a great brazen candelabra on the right side of 
the statue, a little taper for a life and may Our Good 
Lady have mercy ! An old man places the tapers on the 
candelabra, he moves with palsied steps, but deliberately 
because he has had much practice in this work. The 
women in the intervals of their devotion follow him with 
their eyes. Some of the women are crying, crying softly 
as children cry ; these are the young wives perhaps ; the 
older women are often dry-eyed because they have seen 
life already and have come to know it. And life and war 
have many points of similarity. 

A priest passes very softly along the stone flags like a 
familiar spirit. 

You can see the light burning in front of the altar ; 
and the figure of Christ hanging upon His Cross, this 
time a cross of pure gold, gleams under the light. There 
are women who bow to this Presence also and cross 
themselves devoutly ; women who murmur their thanks 
for victory and their prayer for salvation in the same 

Are these the women of the street in front of the little 
Bondieullerie, the women who cursed that other woman 
and ravened for her blood ? It is possible, who knows ? 
Your heart quails and your eyes are dim as you harbour 


this thought ; the face of war is inscrutable truly as the 
face of death. 

This was the beginning : there was a whole world of 
sorrow to come after. Swiftly it came. That night I 
saw a mother arrested in the Rue Royale and heard the 
screaming of her child, a little girl in a white dress with 
a doll clutched in her arms. The screaming of a child 
goes with a man through many days. The woman was 
a spy ; they took her away. I saw a man-hunt, too, along 
the housetops, and the crowd clamouring in the street 
below for his blood. I saw the face of the man, a big 
German face accustomed to smiles ; it was flabby and 
dreadful looking in its terror. If you have seen the 
butchering of a pig you will realise what I mean. Another 
man pursued by a crowd, his clothes torn from his back, 
his body kicked and bruised, furnished yet another recol 
lection ; and the baying of the crowd recalled exactly 
the " music 3 of hounds on a hot scent. They were 
running the Germans to earth in Brussels as they were 
running Englishmen and Frenchmen and Russians to 
earth in Berlin ; there was spy-hunting afoot in all the 
cities of Europe, the hunting of women and of men who 
fled before their devourers in white terror and found no 
eye to pity and no arm to save. 

The thing had its grim humours, however, if you 
cared to forget the imminent horror of it. When the 
War began the Belgian Boy Scouts had been mobilised, 
and they swarmed now everywhere throughout the city. 
If you called on a Minister at his Bureau a boy scout 
conducted you to his presence ; if you went to a pass 
port office again a boy scout scrutinised and dealt with 
you. They were in the cafes and in the streets, at the 
hospitals and the railway stations, upon the tramway 
cars and around all the public buildings. 


They were universally popular, perhaps because they 
are a British institution. All British institutions are 
popular in Belgium. The people petted them and talked 
about them and smiled on them, and the newspaper 
men wrote articles in which their patriotism and their 
quick- wittedness were belauded to the skies. One news 
paper, I think Le Soir, had an article telling how a boy 
scout tracked a German spy and caught him while in 
the act of setting up a wireless installation on a housetop. 
From that hour every boy scout in Brussels became a 
spy-hunter ; spy-hunting appealed to the scout instinct, 
and there was the chance of honourable mention if one 
were successful. 

The thing became a plague within twenty-four hours, 
for boys are terrible when their native instincts are 
enlisted and sanctioned in a war against the larger social 
laws. These boys had no pity and no humour ; what 
boys in such circumstances would have ? They followed 
the most innocent people and spread terror wherever 
they went. I saw an old gentleman of obviously inno 
cent character being tracked along the main street of the 
town by a stealthy boy who conducted the operation in 
Red Indian style, dodging from shop door to shop door. 
His victim soon discovered the plight he was in and then 
his efforts to escape became ludicrous. He was too fat 
to hurry and so he tried the expedient of buying things 
he did not want in all manner of shops. He bought 
tobacco at least twice within the space of ten minutes. 
At last the boy ran out of his hiding-place and confronted 
the man, demanding to see his papers. 

In an instant a crowd collected. The unfortunate 
man had no papers. You heard the angry growl of the 
crowd rising in a crescendo above the expostulations of 


the victim and the shrill talk of the boy. The crowd 
began to jostle, to threaten, to abuse. The boy lost his 
head and shrieked the fatal word " spy." A scuffle began 
which but for the arrival of a couple of gendarmes 
would have gone badly for the victim. The gendarmes 
knew the fat gentleman and released him. 

On another occasion a couple of telegraph mechanics 
who had gone on to a roof to mend a wire had a nasty 
experience which I witnessed from the street. A boy 
scout managed to reach the roof of the building they 
were working on and when the crowd in the street saw 
him and guessed his intentions they began to shout 
directions to him. The two men lost their heads and 
very nearly their lives also, because they tried to escape 
from the boy and the crowd across the roofs. 

Finally the boys wrought their own undoing. They 
stopped in a single afternoon a member of one of the 
Ministry Staffs and, it is said, M. Max, the Burgomaster. 
Next day M. Max put an abrupt end to the reign of 

The anger of the people was rising. But yesterday 
they were the pleasantest, the most easy-going of all the 
peoples of Europe. Belgium was the home of liberty, 
and a man did and went as he willed. But the poison 
of war was working subtly. Brussels, the home of inter 
national spying, became a prey to the spy terror which 
is the most demoralising of all base emotions. Spies 
were everywhere, and every man began to feel himself 
unsafe. Every man began to be suspicious, and suspicion 
made kind men hard and weak men brutal. It rode upon 
men s backs in the street like a curse, and it spoiled even 
the taste of victory and heroism in men s mouths. 

You could feel the poison at work ; you could even 


see the change which it wrought upon the people and 
upon the face of the city. The joy of the early days was 
turned to a bitterness that was brother to fear. Safety 
seemed to have vanished even from the open streets. 
Everywhere were watching eyes and listening ears, 
doubting minds. If you lingered by a shop door the 
passers-by viewed you with quick suspicion ; if you 
lingered long they gathered about you. In a moment 
you might be the centre of one of those furious crowds 
which have neither reason nor pity. 

The poison corrupted wherever it spread as fear and 
hatred corrupt. Like an evil presence war spread her 
black wings over this city. At night you might see fierce 
mobs destroying the shops of the enemy or chasing sus 
pects through the street ; men but yesterday turned 
soldier, paced the streets and demanded proof of iden 
tity at the bayonet point. 

This transformation is one of the most hideous of the 
features of war. It is like the process of a soul s damna 
tion made universal to all souls and quickened within 
the space of a few days. Damnation comes too by force ; 
there is no escape from it. As you look upon their faces 
men are debased, brutalised out of the very nobility of 
their spirits, out of their heroism and out of their self- 
sacrifice is wrought the abomination. 

How else can be explained the days of terror which 
supervened throughout all Europe upon the first clash 
of arms ? Here are mothers weeping and praying for 
their sons, there are women tearing the clothing from 
women s backs and scarring them with their nails ; here 
are men facing the most stupendous odds for the sake of 
honour and liberty, and there are men hunting fellow- 
men through mean streets as a dog hunts rats. Here 


you may listen to the loftiest and noblest sentiments 
which the lips of man can give expression to ; there are 
blood-calls and the shoutings of the mob frantic with 
hatred. It is woe surely to the minds which planned 
this corruption of espionage and this drama of oppres 
sion ; those who pray and those who shout, what respon 
sibility have they and what real share in this orgy ? 

But the orgy continues, sometimes fiercely as when 
the law is given by casual crowds, sometimes sternly and 
coldly as when authority steps in to take control. You 
read of the arrest of spies disguised as priests, as nuns, 
as red-cross nurses, there is always the laconic comment. 

" La fusillade les attend" And these are men and 
women ! 

Yet there is another side to the story. Here is a 
young Belgian officer whose name is known throughout 
the whole country, a member of the lesser nobility, an 
athlete of wide reputation. His wife and his child are 
in the town of Liege now, while the guns are booming 
and the Germans at the gates. A young wife he will 
show you a miniature he carries upon a chain round his 
neck, a girl with the sweet face of a child. Will she 
escape from the hell that is brewing ? He has exhausted 
frantic efforts to find her and she is not to be found. 
Has she escaped already ? Great shells have fallen into 
the town, and what of the child in that terror ? His face 
is drawn with agony. It is more than can be borne. 
The Germans ! He clenches his fists, the blood seems to 
rush even to his eyes. " My God, it is to the death this 
business. Their spies are everywhere, but please Heaven 
we shall hunt the rats out before the world is a week 

The moon is still in the heavens ; but it is a waning 


moon. The streets of the city are empty except around 
the doors of the cafes. Again I am walking these empty 
streets wondering at all the changes I have witnessed in 
so short a space of time, at one moment thrilled by the 
splendid heroism of this people which has come so 
quickly to nation s manhood, at another pitiful for all 
the sorrow that is come upon it, again filled with rage 
at the betrayals and treachery of the enemy who is not 
only without but also within the gates, this enemy with 
his thousand ears and eyes secreted all over the city and 
the land, this enemy whose strength is duplicity and 
whose right hand is cunning. Like the others, I have 
begun to lose something in this maelstrom of feelings ; 
I am not pitiful towards spies, men and women, as I was 
a few days ago. I do not care so long as they are cornered 
and caught. Let them shriek ; it is better so than that 
the innocent who have not schemed nor plotted should 
be laid upon the rack. In this war sentiments can have 
but a small place, sentimentality no place at all. 

It is astonishing indeed what a man can bear to look 
upon unmoved. The other evening, I scarcely remember 
how long ago, the German inhabitants of Brussels were 
rounded up, and marched to a circus to spend the 
night before being entrained and sent back to their 
own country. What a motley throng that was, old and 
young, rich and poor, fat and lean. Gross-bodied mer 
chants with pale, flabby faces, greatly careful of their 
skins in this terrific hour and no less disturbed concern 
ing the possessions that have been, perforce, relinquished 
after long years of toil and labour, you could almost see 
the fat hands clutching at this vanished wealth ; you 
could see the tears that coursed down their heavy faces. 
The women were a grievous spectacle, especially those 


who had children hanging about their skirts ; yet there 
were young girls who contrived to be coquettish even 
in this hour and to cast languorous glances at the Belgian 
soldiers who shepherded them. Some of the men and 
women were very old and some of them were ill and had 
to be carried on hastily improvised stretchers. Many of 
the children were mere babes carried tenderly in their 
mother s arms. They spent the night in a circus 
under strict guard ; and during the night in the circus 
an old woman died and a child was born into the world. 


THE noise of the city, if you shut your eyes, is no 
whit altered ; you cannot detect war in these 
cheerful sounds, the clanging of a tramcar bell, the hoot 
of motor-cars; the rolling of wheels, the tinkle of the 
bells under the necks of the horses, the hum of the 
cafes, the sound of many feet upon dry pavements. 
But open your eyes on this tenth day of war and you 
will see that the subtle process of fear and doubt has 
begun to leave its indelible marks upon Brussels. The 
news is no longer good news as it was a week ago. You 
hear no more concerning the heroic forts of Liege nor 
of the thousands of German dead that lie on the slope of 
the forts, before the town. Liege has fallen and every 
man is aware of it. The Belgian Army is falling back 
across the green Canal by Diest towards Tirlemont and 
Louvain ; little by little the screen of defence is being 
withdrawn from Brussels. It is in vain that the news 
papers assure their readers that the situation remains 
good in every particular ; that the French are on the 
frontier and the English upon the sea. Men shake their 
heads and a great weight of foreboding settles down 
gloomily upon their spirits. 

There are evil rumours, too, running about the streets 

of the city ; rumours that make strong men faint of 



heart. They tell of villages burned and men and women 
out to the sword. Of women turned to the base uses 


of a brutal soldiery, and children whose tormented 
bodies have furnished in their undoing a laugh for the 
devils, their tormentors. It is horrible, this whispered 
terror, which no locked door can exclude and no discipline 
of mind discount. There is no longer any safety or any 
security in the world ; and the familiar places are be 
come terrifying. The instinct to flee away from sight and 
sound of the approaching doom has begun to drive men 
as sheep are driven. 

In street and market and cafe you may see the same 
anxiety manifesting itself, the anxiety of men for their 
womenfolk, gnawing at the vitals, of women for their 
children, of the rich for their possessions, of the poor 
for their homes. All these are in deadly danger ; the 
hands of the spoiler seem already to be thrust out to 
wards them. The pavements are as crowded as ever, 
but the people have lost their customary restfulness ; 
they hurry, looking furtively about them ; uneasiness 
is expressed in every action ; a discerning eye will not 
fail to observe that preparations for flight have already 
begun in the city and in many of the shops. 

The heart of Belgium quails ; but the heart of Belgium 
is not afraid nor turned from its allegiance. " The 
English will come, 3 they say in the streets ; " we shall 
have another Waterloo upon the old fields of victory. 
The terrible fleet of England will keep our coasts in 
violate." In the streets it is always of England they 
talk, with what faith, what wistfulness ! A hundred 
times a day you are asked the same questions : " When 
do they come, the Highlanders ? : " Have you seen 
them ? It is said that they passed through in the night 


and have gone up to the front." " To-day or to-morrow 
they will come and save us, is it not so ? : 

What to reply to these questions ? You do not know. 
In your face it is written that you do not know. The 
Belgian will presently smile his slow, patient smile and 
shrug his shoulders " Tout est cache." He must 
accept the inevitable. 

But the hours of waiting are slow hours and the enemy 
is approaching. On one day you may see the little 
Princes walking in the Boulevards with their tutor and 
hear the cheers that follow them ; on the next, it is said 
that the Queen has taken her family away with her from 
the doomed city. There are rumours that the Govern 
ment is about to leave for Antwerp and a long line of 
motor-cars moves out through the long twilight upon the 
Antwerp road. It is in vain that the newspapers deny 
the rumours and repeat their happy assurances ; the 
evidence is against them. 

But at night in the cafes it is still possible to be 
merry over one s dinner. There are still beautiful 
women in the cafes and well-dressed men. And there 
are soldiers to discuss the news with, when there is any 
thing in the news that is worth discussing. Here, for 
example, in the great cafe of the Palace Hotel, beloved 

by English tourists, is a young flying officer, Baron , 

who is perhaps the first man to have witnessed a 
battle from an aeroplane in Europe. He is of the type 
that Englishmen love, calm and steady, a trifle cynical, 
without the least self-consciousness. This very day he 
has flown over the woods and valleys around Diest and 
been a witness of a struggle there being waged. He 
laughs a little when you ask him to tell you his impres 


" But that is the misfortune, 3 he says in excellent 
English, " there is so little impression. You can see men 
like ants. It is all silence too, because the noise of your 
engine drowns every other sound. You say to yourself, 
If this is war, it is a poor show ; a struggle of the in 
sects among the grass. 

A little later he returns to that metaphor which, it is 
evident, has pleased him : " A struggle of insects among 
the grass," he says, " that exactly is war as you see it from 
an aeroplane." 

The first wounded came to Brussels in the cool of a 
splendid August day. It seemed as if the sky was spread 
for their coming all gold and crimson and saffron, like 
a banner of war spread upon the dim fields of night. 
The people knew of their coming and awaited it in the 
great square in front of the Nord Station which in peace 
times is the traveller s first vision of Brussels. The 
people had come to offer its tragic welcome to its soldiers. 

For long hours the crowd waited, scarcely seeming to 
move. The train was late upon its journey, but the 
Belgian people have a deep fount of patience. The 
crowd consisted of the ordinary Bruxellois, though the 
number of women present was greatly in excess of the 
number of men. Some of the women were very poor 
and many of them were mothers leading children by the 
hand. The children regarded the matter from the point 
of view of children, that is, they thought that they were 
being taken to see a show of some kind and they clamoured 
to be lifted up so as to be able to view the proceedings 
over the heads of the crowd. 

I do not think that I have ever experienced a crowd 
so quiet. The silence in the square was oppressive, like 
the silence you sometimes encounter in hospital wards 


at night when it is known that a death has taken place, 
or like the silence which attends the act of burial in a 
country churchyard. It was almost a presence this 
silence ; a gathering of the spirits of men and women 
into some great indeterminate shape which brooded over 
their mere bodies possessing and compelling them. The 
chimes of a church clock which told the quarters sweetly 
near at hand had a strange significance and struck 
sharply upon the mind, as the tinkle of the Mass bell 
strikes at the great moment of sacrifice ; and the sound 
of the traffic in the near streets which came faintly over 
this muted place only deepened the stillness and the 

There was a tongue given to this silence, however, 
when a long line of motor ambulances and motor-cars, 
which had been hastily converted to serve the purpose of 
ambulances, crept down the hill from the Hopital 
St. Jean and passed through the rows of the crowd into 
the station. This was the first sight which many of these 
people had been afforded of the actual form of war ; 
like a statue unveiled the form stood forth from its 
coverings of language and romance, stark and terrible. 
The red crosses upon the cars, which deliberate hands 
had painted in anticipation of coming slaughter, seemed 
to be painted now in blood. The people reeled at the 
sight, ordinary, mundane as it now seems to all of us 
for in those days the people were not inured to the 
spilling of blood and the wrecking of bodies ; the 
eyes of the men grew cold and stern, and the women s 
eyes were full of tears and their faces soft with pity. 
You heard a murmur that was an expression at once 
of regret and grief and fear, a strange murmur recalling 
the uneasy sighing of the sea before a gale. 


After that a long time passed, or it seemed that a long 
time passed, before the ambulances reappeared upon 
the great square. When the first car moved slowly out 
of the station and it was seen that it was in fact loaded 
with wounded men a groan, like the groan of a man 
under the knife, broke from the crowd. It was a terrible 
cry to hear, because you knew, as you listened to 
it, that it came from lips that were set against 
emotional expression. It was like the stab of a sharp knife, 
quick and deep ; the stronghold of self-restraint had 
been assailed and taken as it were at a single blow. 

The cars crept back silently through the crowd and 
the crowd shrank from them and then pressed forward 
again, divided betwixt fear and curiosity. There were 
faces at the windows of some of the cars, queer, vacant 
faces, with closed eyes or eyes that looked but did not 
see. There were faces so pale that you wondered whether 
death had not already finished his work. If you were 
near enough you heard terrible sounds coming from the 
inside of the open ambulances. And all around you you 
heard now the crying of women and the shriller crying 
of children, who cried because they were frightened and 
because their mothers cried. The ambulances moved up 
the hill in the golden dusk that enveloped them like a 
haze ; the people melted away ; spirits of desolation 
passed like a chill wind through the streets of the city. 

The Hopital St. Jean is built around a central quad 
rangle where are old trees and lawns and flower-beds. 
They brought the ambulances here and unloaded them 
in an atmosphere sweet with the perfume of roses. 
Quiet orderlies who had been drilled for the work 
removed the stretchers from the waggons and cars, and 
carried them slowly to the wards. It was now that you 


saw the first horror of war and knew the first sickening 
sense of its presence. 

There were boys on those stretchers who had come 
straight from the carnage of Liege, boys with yellow 
hair and blue eyes like English boys, and faces that were 
as pink and white as the faces of girls. One of them had 
a shattered arm that lay by his side limp and pitiful ; a 
great bandage, hastily applied, covered half the face of 
another ; by his pallor and the curious twitchings of his 
face you could guess that this man was grievously 
wounded about the body, his eyes were very wistful 
when they looked at you as though he told you that he 
was young as yet and did not wish to die. But his lips 
were firm and proud. Another lay in what seemed to 
be a deep coma flaccid and inert, the reservoirs of his 
strength exhausted. 

In the wards nurses made ready for the work they had 
waited for during a whole week. Sweet white beds were 
spread to receive the poor bodies, and there were little 
trays of instruments set out and barrows loaded with 
dressings and bandages ; the operating theatres were 
likewise prepared against their grim work. 

One by one they brought the stretchers to the beds. 

Night fell and the lamps in the wards were lighted ; 
the yellow light fell graciously on the white beds and 
on the white faces of the men in the beds. So many 
faces and so different the bearded men of Flanders 
and the heavy clean-shaven men of the Eastern provinces. 
Nurses in their white uniforms that suggested a religious 
order moved from bed to bed under the lamplight. How 
softly and serenely they moved and how deftly they 
performed their work ! A surgeon with his assistant 
came into the ward ; they were dressed in long white 


operating aprons. Methodically and noiselessly the toll 
of suffering was reckoned. As they passed from man to 
man the assistant wrote the diagnosis of his chief upon 
the case-boards which hung above each patient. When 
they reached the man who had gazed so wistfully in the 
quadrangle the surgeon shook his head. 

Afterwards a barrow painted all white and with little 
rubber-tyred wheels was rolled into the ward and the 
man with the wistful eyes was taken away to the operat 
ing room. 

It is so quiet in this ward and so homelike that you 
cannot believe that all the terror and agony which rage 
without do not belong to some nightmare. This ward, 
like every hospital ward, surely it stands as the expression 
of man s love for man ; and the doctors and nurses are 
the ministers of a compassionate sentiment which has 
overflowed from the heart of humanity. War is far 
away now, here in this clearing-house of war. War, the 
shameful thing, is put away because the shame of it has 
been discovered and its mockery and tinsel are appraised 
at their worth. 

There is a German in the ward, in the far bed on the 
right-hand side next the door. They have put him in 
the same ward with their own people for this night at 
any rate, though to-morrow they will remove him to a 
ward by himself. He is a tall fellow and fills all his bed, 
and he has a round face and a big jaw and hair like a 
brush, stiff and hard. His leg is broken and the Belgian 
surgeon has taken infinite pains to set it so that the 
German may have a good leg again as soon as possible. 
The Belgian surgeon was very tender in the handling of 
that leg ; as tender as when he handled the legs and 
arms of his friends in the other beds. And the German 


thanked him when it was all over and the leg was bound 
in its splints. 

Had they too, the surgeon and his patient, forgotten 
the fact of war in this quiet hour under the lamps when 
men suffer and die and grieve for one another that 
suffering and death are mingled in every man s cup ? 
Yesterday at Liege it was different. The German was 
mad then ; he told me in his broken French that he was 
quite mad, and I am not disposed to doubt his sincerity. 
He said he had one wish only to kill. He lies very 
quietly now watching everything out of his little, restless 
eyes, which have a trace of uneasiness in their hurried 
glance. Perhaps these other men may experience the 
killing instinct just as he experienced it ? But no, it will 
not come to a man in this place at any rate. So he goes 
to sleep and to dream, when his pain will let him ; and 
then his face is quite simple and boyish as it may have 
looked when he slept at night in his father s house on 
the other side of the Rhine before they did this thing 
which has made all the world foul and hideous. 

When you leave the hospital the streets seem gro 
tesque to you, because the streets and all the people in 
them are given over to this business of war, the end of 
which for a man himself you have seen. But you are 
not proof against the delirium that runs in the streets 
and bends every spirit to its influence. The hope and the 
fear that are abroad grip you as they are gripping every 
one round about you, and once more, like a piece of 
flotsam that has been cast ashore, you are sucked back 
into the whirlpool of hate and despair. 

Brussels is shedding her delusions now with every hour 
that she measures of her freedom. The end is within her 
sight. She is dull and merry by turns, as they say the 


condemned are, who await execution of sentence. She 
is dull stoically, without scandal, and she is merry in a 
curious, aloof way that tells the secret of Belgium s 
history that this people has learned the uses of war not 
by hearsay but from its blood. This people, after all, 
has a hereditary disposition towards exile. And despair 
has come to it often in the years that are past. 

Despair comes now upon the heels of triumph before 
even the glow of victory is cold. 

Yesterday there were German prisoners marching in 
the streets of Brussels, dull, dirty men with muddied 
uniforms and bare-headed, because their helmets had been 
taken as souvenirs. They marched stolidly, not looking 
to right or left, because the shame of their position 
weighed on them. The people of Brussels looked at 
them from the footways, but did not demonstrate against 
them : the people of Brussels could read the truth now 
through the rosiest of the rosy pictures. ... It was a 
strange spectacle that column of marching, muddy 
prisoners and those quiet people on the footways watch 
ing it. 

There is a cafe in the city that was once a guardroom 
of Alva s soldiers. A cellar it is, which you approach 
down a short flight of steps from the street ; and the 
street is one of the lesser streets of the town. The place 
is full of memories of other days, and even to-day you 
may meet all manner of interesting men and women 
here men and women who move behind the set 
scenes men and women who understand, who know. 
The cafe has one of the best cooks in Europe or 
had, because I have no knowledge concerning his fate 
since the occupation began. His soups were things to 
talk about, and his chocolate souffle was a work of art as 


the term is understood in the narrowest circles. He was 
a good fellow, and he loved you if you showed a dis 
criminating interest in his creations. He would not 
spare himself in that case to make you happy. 

I dined in the old cellar on many occasions : the last 
occasion was Thursday night, a week before the end 
of things as they measure time now in what is left of 
Belgium. We had the souffle that night by special re 
quest, and I fancy it was the last occasion on which the 
souffle was made, at least with a good conscience. It 
came to us in a great earthenware pot ; light as thistle 
down it was and exquisite as old sherry. We had the 
cook up afterwards and made speeches to him as he stood 
beaming and bowing in the gloomy middle distance of 
his vault. 

I recall the incident because that night I met a very 
strange man indeed in the cellar cafe and had a long 
conversation with him. A being quick and nervous 
in his speech, a trifle furtive, amazingly well informed. 
He may have been a Frenchman or he may have 
been an Italian or even a Turk. He had a rare 
assortment of passports in his wallet passports for 
half the countries in Europe that an ordinary man has 
never as much as set his eyes upon. He knew Brussels as 
few of her citizens did, and his fund of news was remark 

But what held my interest was his exposition of the 
situation as he had come to know it. He spoke of the 
situation as grave beyond any powers of exaggeration. 
The Germans, he said, were going into Belgium in 
numbers that were almost innumerable ; the Belgian 
army was reeling back in front of them, fighting, it is 
true, like heroes, but hopelessly outnumbered and out- 


gunned. The Belgian army would not attempt to cover 
the city ; it would wheel back to the northward and 
save itself behind the fortifications of Antwerp. Brussels 
was already a ville ouverte and the barricades which they 
had begun to erect in the suburban roads were so much 
wasted effort. They would not be used. 

There was little hope of defeating the march upon 
Brussels because the Allies were not ready. The French 
might get as far as the frontier with luck. The British 
perhaps would join forces with them in that region. 
But the German avalanche would be difficult to stop 
it was doubtful whether it could be stopped. The 
future of Europe was, indeed, in terrible jeopardy ; all 
things were possible, and most of the things that were 
probable were of evil omen. 

There was no doubt that this was the truth : they 
knew it in the Government offices and at the Ministries ; 
they knew it in the great business offices and were already 
making their preparations ; they were beginning to 
know it more and more, certainly in the streets. The 
abounding life of the city still pulsed and throbbed, but 
the chill of death was near and it was coming nearer. 
It was spreading from the Eastwards where already the 
enemy was master of important towns and flourishing 
villages, from which he had driven forth the inhabitants 
as cattle are driven forth. It had spread all over this 
land even to the frontiers of the sea at Zeebrugge and 

Ostend was no longer the Ostend of summer memory. 
The crowds were still there in their summer clothes, and 
there were still little children to paddle in the sea and 
build sand castles and fly their gaily coloured kites. 
There were still women ready to prove that all things 


may be bought for gold, but a gloom that made all 
this pleasure-market hideous in its emptiness had settled 
over the face of the town. On Sunday, August i6th, 
when I walked for an hour in the evening along the 
famous digue, I saw already the coming of the terror 
that was soon to change these gay shores into a place of 
death and agony. Here, even more than in Brussels, the 
people feared. Long years expended in the piling up 
of profit had made them greedy of their possessions and 
very careful in the disposing of them. Some of them 
were already in process of flight to England ; and others 
were nearly ready to flee ; in the minds of all anxiety 
was working bitterly, and upon the face of all was written 
the terror that rankled in their breasts. 

The digue is empty for it is night : a soft wind blows 
in from the sea across the long yellow sands. The town 
sleeps uneasily under a cloudless sky that is full of stars 
this frivolous pleasure-town where all Europe was wont 
to come merry-making. You see the long spires of the 
churches piercing the blue night, and you hear the tinkle 
of soft-tongued bells calling the hours. Out seaward 
there are strange lights that flash a message indecipher 
able and mysterious, and far away you hear the booming 
of a ship s syren. It is the end for Ostend also as it is 
the end for all this pleasant land : the long, long years of 
peace are rolled away like a concluded scroll : the days 
of sorrow and danger, of shame and bitterness and death 
are at hand. You think as your footfalls ring emptily 
upon the pavement in front of the famous Casino of the 
lines of Verhaeren : 

" It is the flabby, fulsome butcher s stall of luxury 
Times out of mind erected on the frontiers 
Of the city and the sea." 


Will the fire that is already leaping to consume the 
old world, its pleasures and its lusts, give in its place a 
new world fairer and nobler made ? 

And now there are but three days left to Brussels in 
which she may call her spirit her own. Monday (to-day) 
and Tuesday and Wednesday are all that are left to her. 
She has fought and prayed and hoped, and the sound 
of her bitterness has been echoed through the whole 
world but there is no salvation and no help for her in 
the whole world. 

How changed the city is ? If you speak to your fellow- 
diners in the cafes now they will no longer tell you of the 
great deeds that warm their hearts to hear and to re 
count. They will tell you instead stories of barbarism 
and horror that are coming to the city every hour from 
the country that has been invaded. The name of the 
Uhlans will be continually on their lips, and you will 
gather that these horsemen have become an obsession 
as terrible and as terrifying as in the days of 1870 when 
the French peasantry of Champagne fled before them. 
You will hear how the Uhlans carried pillage and rape 
into Tongres, Herve, Micheroux, Soumayne ; how they 
fired the little villages that line the highway between 
Liege and the city, how they drove their long lances 
through the bodies of fleeing men and women, and how 
the women were caught and torn from their men and 
made the partners of most hideous carousal. 

In Soumayne they shot men and women in batches 
without reason or object. They shot a little girl here 
with the men in the corner of a field near her home ; but 
it may be that her fate was better than that of her sisters 
who were not shot. For in the night it was the habit of 
the Uhlans to visit private houses, the doors of which 


were ordered to be kept open all night. When they 
started forth upon these visits the soldiers were, more 
often than not, drunk. 

At Herve they burnt houses, and lest the women and 
children should try to escape there were men posted 
with rifles to shoot into the doorways and windows. 

On tables in the public square of Liege fifteen women 
were raped in daylight, and their agony made sport for 
the brutes who stood about to witness it. 

A story was told me of the murder of a child, a little 
boy with fair hair. They drove a fixed bayonet through 
this boy and then the owner of the bayonet shouldered 
his rifle and the child, which still lived and moved, was 
carried aloft until it died. 

As you listen to these stories, the truth of which is 
beyond dispute, you grow sick at heart. But there is 
worse to come, so that afterwards you will scarcely be 
able to remember what you have heard. There is the 
burning and sacking of Louvain to come, and the awful 
massacre of Dinant, and the scourge of Semspt and 
Rotselaer and Wespelaer and Tamines. The cafe lights 
grow dim and the garish decorations seem to mock you 
through the cloud of tobacco smoke which rises up 
around them. These white tables with their gleaming 
silver and their flowers and their costly food the things 
which civilisation has evolved and sanctioned of what 
meaning are they ? Twenty miles away from this place 
civilisation is dead in a welter of the blood of children ; 
human wolves blood-glutted, but still bloodthirsty, are 
ravening for more women and more children. 

In the great square by the station, which faces the 
hotel I am staying at, the refugees from the eastern 
towns and villages are being gathered as they come to 


the city. They come by trains, by horse vehicles, on foot. 
The trains are crowded with them, fifteen and twenty 
people in a compartment huddled together like sparrows 
in the presence of a hawk. They throng the verandahs 
at the ends of the third-class carriages, holding on to the 
railings ; they are even upon the roofs of the carriages. 
These are the fortunate ones who have managed to gain 
a place in the train and so to escape. They did not win 
that place, at least in many cases, without a fight, and 
there were grim scenes at some of the stations where the 
trains came from when it was seen that the accommoda 
tion was not sufficient for all who wished to travel. 
Some of the trains were the last trains out, and when the 
train left you behind, you and your children, you had 
to walk through a country in which armies were already 
moving, an army falling back and an army pressing 
forward. You had also to take the chance of meeting 
the dreadful horsemen with their death s-head helmets 
whose mercy is as the mercy of tigers. 

So you fought for room in the train at least for your 
old folk and your children, and you left the poor baggage 
which you had brought with you on the platform of the 
station. When the train moved away from the station 
you shut your eyes and thanked God swiftly and silently 
for the deliverance accorded to you, though you had 
lost everything you possessed in the world in utter ruin. 

The roads to the city were full of the fleeing peasants, 
of the old who toiled along bitterly and of the children 
who cried because they were hungry and there was 
nothing to eat, and they were not allowed to sit down 
and rest. 

They came to the great square, most of them, about 
evening, when the lights of the city were being lit and 


the cafes were receiving their usual crowd of diners. 
They came to the square as to a haven of rest and 
safety. Here, surely, in the capital they would find a 
secure retreat. They brought their luggage, those of 
them who had luggage, and piled it up to await the 
moment at which the journey must be resumed in the 
morning. The luggage consisted of all manner of things, 
useful and useless. Of household goods tied up in 
blankets and shawls, of pots and pans strung together, 
of pieces of furniture brought upon hand-barrows, of 
treasures valued through many years which it had seemed 
impossible to leave behind to destruction. The barrows 
in Shoreditch of a Saturday night do not contain so 
motley a collection of odds and ends as did the great 
square in Brussels on that autumn evening. And the 
people themselves were stranger than their possessions. 

You have to go to poets like Verhaeren for a descrip 
tion of these Belgian peasants herded in this city area 
with their dumb, hopeless eyes full of fear as the eyes 
of an animal when it approaches the shambles. They 
are peasants, tillers of the soil, ignorant and stupid ; 
they have never before journeyed from their homes ; 
their homes are their world, and this night it is not only 
exile which faces them but something nearly akin to 
death a change terrible in itself and full of unknown 
terrors for the morrow. 

Verhaeren has said of them that they are a greedy 

" Keen on the slightest gain ; and mean 
Since they cannot enrich themselves with work." 

But this night even the pangs of greed have ceased to 
affect them : this night it is the pangs of hunger they 
feel and the deeper pangs of homesickness and loneliness 


and bewilderment. They are dressed, most of them, in 
their best clothes as though it was to some festival that 
they were setting out. 

They fill the centre of the square. As night comes on 
they lie down to sleep, using bundles as pillows and 
tightening their coats and cloaks about their tired bodies. 
Many of them sleep heavily like hogs. But some of the 
old ones cannot forget easily enough to sleep, and they 
sit upon their gear gazing into the darkness stonily as the 
procession of the years goes by before their eyes. 

Is it possible to measure all the grief that is expressed 
by this silent, drab company upon which the lights of 
the city fall so garishly ?- -the grief of the simple man 
who is the pawn in this game of war, of his womenfolk 
whom he has not learned to guide in these labyrinthine 
ways, and of his children who wound his spirit by their 
shrill complainings. If you come near to these folk you 
will discover new shapes and forms of grief : you will 
taste the exquisite vintage of mother s love as never 
before you have tasted : you will see this peasant woman 
of the broad, heavy face gather her children under her 
shawl to warm them and give her breast to the babe 
that clamours against it. Her self-sacrifice, so immediate 
and unconscious, will perhaps give you hope even in this 
darkest hour. You will hear the old women too, as the 
night deepens, crooning little songs to the children, and 
gathering those of them who are motherless into arms 
long since unskilled in mothercraft, yet never forgetful 
of the cunning of earlier days. 

Around the square there are great lights blazing ; 
the cafes have their doors and windows open and the 
shops are brightly illuminated. Around the square 
move in endless procession the women of the town and 


the men who make traffic with them. Vice has her 
marts open ever, even in this solemn hour. When you 
have tired listening to the sobbing of the frightened 
children and the crooning of the old women, you may 
come to the pavements and hear the laughter of these 
girls and their cavaliers. You may see rich dresses and 
gay faces though the gaiety is more haggard than usual 
to-night and catch sentences of conversation that has 
changed little, perhaps, in its tenor since men began to 
build cities and people them with the creatures of their 

It is a grim contrast this if you have an eye for the 
dramatic. It suggests, perhaps, a coffin surrounded by 
its lighted candles. Only the voice of the mourners do 
not mourn. 

Let there be no misunderstanding. The sight of these 
refugees wrung the heart of the city and every effort was 
made to alleviate their distress. But the good citizens 
of Brussels were not upon the pavements of the city at 
this hour : at this hour they were abed or else preparing 
themselves for the exile that was so surely their portion. 
On the pavements were the riff-raff of the city that is 
like the riff-raff of all cities, of London, Paris and Berlin 
as well as of Brussels a people without nationality and 
without home, whose city is the street, and whose 
devotion is toward the lusts it battens upon. 

So the drama is played to its final act, and already the 
curtain begins to descend. These last were strange days 
indeed, even in this new world of the unforeseen and the 
incredible. Blow upon blow the evil news has fallen 
upon the city, every hour the harbinger of fresh calamity. 

In these last days men have seen a whole nation driven 
like chaff under the fan. Roads have been thronged 


with a great tide of humanity surging to the frontiers 
of the land. All day and all night in steady torrent the life 
of the city has flowed away from it as a man s blood flows 
from a wound. Along the Antwerp road, which runs 
out between the station and the Palace Hotel, motor 
cars and horse-cars and carts and carriages and bicycles 
and foot passengers have fled away from the doomed 
Brussels, and by every train they have gone, more and 
still more of them, fighting and scrambling with one 
another even to gain a place. I stood in the railway 
station and watched this exodus, and there was no end 
to it ; from morning until night there was no end. Such 
an exodus Belgium had not seen, I thought, since the 
days when Napoleon bestrode Europe and the fear of 
his name went before him like a sword. 

But some there are who do not join themselves to that 
human avalanche, who elect to stay and face the dark 
days in the strength of their own spirits. In a chamber 
of the Town Hall, panelled by dead hands and adorned 
with the ripest splendour of Flemish art, one man sits 
through these long hours for whom there is no door 
open whereby he may escape, one man upon whose acts 
and words will depend ten thousand lives and the safety 
of ten thousand homes. It is a cruel burden that he must 
carry, and his face is weary and haggard already at the 
knowledge of it. But he does not flinch. There are as 
brave men in Brussels this I9th day of August as went 
out three weeks before to the holding of Liege and the 
work in the lanes before Tirlemont and Louvain. Bel 
gium is justified of her children. She has her Adolph 
Max and his devoted counsellors as yet against the dark 
days that are come upon her. 

And she has imperishable memories. There is the 


memory of Leman of Liege, the Horatius of Belgium, 
who held the passage of the river while the Allies 
France and England were girding on their armour, and 
so perhaps saved Europe from shame and slavery. And 
there is the memory of the words of the King, spoken 
upon the eve of battle, and much more than justified. 

" Caesar said that the Belgians were the bravest of all 
the peoples of Gaul." 

Leman and Max are lost to Belgium at this hour, but 
her King remains, surely the noblest leader ever vouch 
safed by Heaven to a noble people. It is true what they 
said to me in the first days before the darkness : 

" Belgium has often been conquered : she has never 
been beaten. This people may be driven even to death, 
but who can doubt that this people will rise again from 
the dead ? " 


THE Channel boat was about to sail; the Channel 
boat was half empty and the sea was like glass. In 
the delicious warmth of the August afternoon people 
seemed to forget to be in a hurry, or that all Europe and 
all the world was at that hour in the most desperate 
hurry of which history has any knowledge. The porters 
on the quay at Folkestone lounged idly against the trucks 
which they had unloaded, and the sailors on the packet 
waited, as idly, for the word of command to loosen away 
the ropes which bound the vessel to the pier. I stood on 
the deck of the boat watching the last of the few passen 
gers come aboard. The last of the civilian passengers was 
a very famous war correspondent whose name is known 
in most homes throughout England. He had forgotten to 
have his passport countersigned by the French consul, and 
so he was having an argument with some of the landing 
people which for a time looked rather ominous. Eventu 
ally, however, they shrugged their shoulders and let him 
go. He came down the gangway slowly, carrying his 
luggage, and there was disclosed, behind him, a little man 
in khaki uniform with the scarlet facings and the scarlet 
hat-band of the General Staff. The little man was smiling 
genially, and as he stepped on to the gangway said some 
thing to a friend who was with him which set that friend 



laughing heartily. The little man was Sir Horace Smith- 

Then, the circumstance did not strike one greatly, 
but now, in the light of after-events, it seems full of 
strange meaning. Within a week what other scenes were 
the quiet, rather tired eyes of this little, oldish man to 
gaze upon scenes of ruin, of carnage, of heroism and 
self-sacrifice which will remain emblazoned on the pages 
of our history while an Englishman lives to read of them 
and to glow with pride at the knowledge of them, scenes 
of terror which no pen can ever describe and no brush 
ever reproduce, scenes of dreadful anxiety that wrung 
men s hearts till young men grew old and old men were 
forsaken of knowledge and experience. How often in 
those days must this quiet sea have risen like a picture 
in that man s memory, comforting him perhaps with 
its suggestion of rest and peace ! 

The steamer drew away swiftly across the blue spaces 
of the Channel. Folkestone and Dover, with their white 
cliffs, became a dim shadow in the evening sunlight ; the 
other cliffs of Gris Nez rose up out of the sea, beckoning. 
The little man stood forward on the deck surrounded by 
officers ; they talked earnestly among themselves . . . 
and beyond the cliffs, in the dim haze that rose like a 
cloud above the fields of France, lay sleeping a hundred 
towns and villages Mons and Charleroi, St. Quentin, 
Le Cateau, Villiers Cotterets, Crepy en Valois, Senlis 
to-morrow to be smitten into the dust and scattered to 
uncharitable winds. 

At Boulogne a huge motor-car received the little man 
and spirited him away beyond the hills. The green hills 
above Boulogne where Napoleon camped his armies, have 
become, in these days, the barrier between the known 


and the unknown, between civilisation, what is left of it, 
and savagery ; between life and death. But on that 
August night the terrible secrecy had scarce begun ; the 
procession the long, long procession, of fair youth which 
was to mount the yellow road by the old walled city, past 
the great Cathedral, which stands like an image of love 
on the hill-top had not yet set forth upon its pilgrimage, 
the beginning of which is rosy endeavour, and the end, 
so often, silence. It was still possible, if you wished it, 
to travel beyond the hills, amid the green fields of France, 
and talk with anxious men and women concerning their 
chances of salvation. To-morrow the gates would be 
closed and the sentries posted : to-morrow and the next 
day and the next and the next, until the year will have 
grown old into winter and a new year come also to 
maturity. But the night remained. 

A starlit night it was : still and quiet, because the 
sea had relinquished her moaning and the wind blew 
only softly amongst the trees. From the hill-tops you 
might look down upon the old town of Boulogne, and 
then, casting your eyes seaward, discern, far away, the 
lights that promised England and spoke of her confidence 
in this moment of all moments in her history ; you 
might see the flat roof whereon Buonaparte walked with 
his Marshals while yet the dream of Empire was a dream 
and discussed the fate of the vast expedition pulsing 
around him with eagerness and expectation. " The 
Army of England ! : And over yonder, standing out 
white and stark in the gloom like a wan spectre, is the 
column he builded to perpetuate the fame of this Army 
of England which was to wrest her trident from Britannia 
and put the yoke on the necks of her people. 

It is like a dream, this eve of stupendous calamity, a 


dream in which the figures of warriors and heroes come 
again to their ancient battle-fields. You may see Julius 
Caesar going down the hill with his legionaries to make 
his crossing to the Isle of Mystery across the waves, and 
Henry V and his helmeted knights ascending over 
against the day of Crispin for Agincourt is near at 
hand Marlborough too passed this way, and Wellington. 
. . . You may see "the Little Man on the White Horse 
riding away across the fields of France to his Empire 
and his downfall, to Austerlitz and Marengo and Wagram 
and Leipzig and Waterloo. 

It is like a dream, because the smoke of the town goes 
up so lazily upon the still air and the sound of the town 
is like the tinkle of distant bells, a little music and some 
jarring and again a soft murmuring of sound. They are 
merry in the town because they have seen already the 
first regiments of a new army of England; and the girls 
are wearing the regimental badges pinned over their 
hearts ; and the girls are wearing new little caps like kefis, 
and tartan skirts some of them for love of the " anglais 
ecossais" because the swing of the kilt has already lit new 
ardours in the ardent heart of France. The streets and 
the cafes are filling with light, for it is near the dinner 
hour, and no matter what may be afoot in Paris, Boulogne 
has not yet changed her custom. The " aperitif hour 
is still the gayest of all the day, let the shades that go up 
and down the hill, dream-wise, bode good or ill. 

It is a dream surely because on the full tide great 
ships are stealing into the harbour, one and then another 
and another, and far off, like an echo, comes to your ears 
the thrill of strong men cheering ! 

How slowly those ships creep in which bring the 
flower of England s fighting men to France. So slowly 


that it seems almost that they linger wilfully upon their 
coming, delaying, if it may, the hour of death by a little 
period. Great ships, well known on the long Eastern 
trail where the merciless sun blisters the paint on iron 
plates and makes the deck a grid for men to writhe on ; 
ships that have sailed to the world s ports for the world s 
enriching and the glory of England, but never before to 
this little port between the sands over against the gate 
ways of England. 

The bridges of the ships loom up overhead through 
the dusk, and you see men, hands on wheel and telegraph, 
guiding the monsters to their berths. Men do not shout 
to-night as you have heard them shouting in the great 
ports in the peace days ; they are still and quiet and 
they speak their orders shortly and sternly, with a curb 
on their voices all the time which thrills you to the 
marrow as all the shouting did not thrill you. And the 
men on the docks do not shout either, because the spell 
of this night is upon them also and has made them mute 
as they have perhaps never been mute before in their 
lives. And all the while a murmur of men s voices talking 
intently comes to you across the gangways and the 
strip of water which holds the ship off still from the dry 

Men s voices, the men of England whom all Europe 
awaits with breathless anticipation, the men of England 
the hope of whose coming solaced Belgium in her hour 
of agony and still upholds her, whose fair, boy-faces have 
stirred the heart and the soul of France. You feel a 
great throbbing as you listen and when your eyes dis 
cover them crowding the decks, a sea of faces moving 
in perpetual waves, you cannot speak the emotion that 
surges tumultuously in your breast. You too are dumb 


like the men upon the ship and the Frenchmen along the 

It is a spectacle strange and glorious beyond all the 
sights which an Englishman s eyes have ever looked upon, 
and in the retrospect melancholy so that your heart 
breaks to think of it. 

Those boys whom we shall never see again, who will 
not come back adown the yellow road by the old walled 
town which their feet trod so gaily in those days before 
the reaping ; those boys of the fair cheeks and the blue 
eyes, hard as a whip s lash, light-hearted as girls, merry 
and careless as the wind ; those boys, the type and figure 
of the perfect soldier in joy of life, and fearlessness and 
experience and faith. . . . 

Beyond the yellow road and beyond the old walled 
town and beyond the green fields that stretch away 
from the hill-top towards the broad breast of France, 
they are waiting for them now as sick men wait for the 
dawn ; there is a little work to do for each of them 
before the silence, and a little glory to win before the 
darkness, that the white fires of imperishable honour may 
be lighted again on the altars of England. 

They are opening doorways in the sides of the ships, 
and into the doorways go the long planks that have 
been brought for this work. An officer is the first to 
step ashore, and as he passes along the quay you may see 
that he is still upon the threshold of his manhood. With 
an easy stride he passes, recalling somehow the stride of 
a panther in the wild. The Frenchman at your elbow, 
who knows the world, has marked him and exclaims 
with a touch of impatience in his voice, " But it is 
ridiculous, is it not? He tries to walk humbly and 
he walks as if he owned the universe." And that is 


the truth too, and worth recording because it is the 

Great flares are lighted along the quays and their 
light falls red and yellow upon the water. The soldiers 
come down the gangways stiffly because the voyage has 
cramped them in narrow limits ; some of them begin 
to disembark the horses for the gun teams, and there 
are lively scenes when they prove difficult, as is the 
natural right of horses. The men warm to their work 
and you hear cheery imprecations being flung at the 
horses, and little, gay snatches of songs that men have 
remembered from their school-days or picked up a night 
or two ago in a London music-hall ; and you hear be 
ginning the sudden stream of chaff and banter which 
will last many of these lads to the presence of death on 
the parched fields that are awaiting them. 

After the horses the guns ; and so the great cranes on 
the dock wall are brought up and begin dipping their 
arms into the holds. Out of the holds come the chariots 
of war, short black boxes set upon heavy wheels and 
long guns with snouts that suggest a greedy animal of 
the baser sort. You learn that the guns are " Long 
Toms," and that, nevertheless, they are of the female 
sex and dearly beloved even as they are abundantly well 
known. You learn that a gun may have a soul even as a 
man has, and that the character of a gun is strange and 
capricious as the character of a girl. These things are 
revealed to you in the crisp language of the barrack-room 
which knows England as " Old Blighty " and pours its 
scorn upon the holder of the " couchy " job. 

And there is revealed to you also the secret of the 
blazing devotion which in the days so near at hand will 
bind these same men to their guns as seamen in dire 


peril are oftentimes bound to their ship, a devotion that 
is more than the mere performing of duty, that has 
tender sentiment and fetishism if you do not wish to 
call it religion mingled inextricably in its composition. 

When the men are gathered in the open beyond the 
dock sheds you are able to look at them at your leisure, 
and talk to them. But it is not so easy to talk because 
the little French girls are already in front of you, and 
already they are begging in those plaintive, haunting 
voices of theirs for " souvenir, souvenir " and the soldiers 
are submitting with a smile to the theft of the regimental 
badges from shoulders and hats, which quick fingers per 
form ever so skilfully. 

The soldiers are more interested in the little French 
girls than in any other thing, because this is the first time 
many of them have set foot on the shores of France, and 
the fame of the French girls is ubiquitous. 

But when that novelty has been tasted they will talk 
to you merrily and you will learn their point of view 
concerning the tragedy in which they are destined to 
play so great a part. You will learn with wonder and the 
wonder will remain with you. For these men, most of 
them, do not know why they are here and do not care. 
They know that there is war war with Germany and 
they know that war is the life business upon which, some 
in haste, and some with deliberation, they have embarked. 
They are fighting men ; and so they will fight, God 
helping them. And after that they will go home again 
and wait for a new campaigning. How should it be other 
wise ? And how should these know that they are going 
out, the vast majority, upon their last campaigning ; 
that the old British Army with all its riches of custom 
and tradition is already in the melting-pot of destiny I 


They stand, rank upon rank, boyish faces in the light of 
the yellow flares, stern at attention and perfect in their com 
posure. The flares leap and diminish, casting long shadows. 
Behind are the masts of the great ships, and out, seaward, 
the lights of other ships stealing in with their burden of 
human souls. The city rears itself up, tier upon tier of 
light, across the harbour. The stars are overhead. 

There is a sharp word of command. 

The ranks begin to move forward towards the wooden 
bridge that leads to the city and the hills where the camps 

The sound of marching feet is like the sound of deep, 
low thunder muttering along the plain. 

Then above the thunder of the marching a strong 
voice thrills out the song that, by accident, has become 
the Soldier s Song of this year of tragedy. 

" It s a long way to Tipperary, 

It s a long way to go ; 
It s a long way to Tipperary, 
To the sweetest girl I know." 

And all the marching men take up the song, swelling 
the singing of it to a mighty tide. 

" Good-bye, Piccadilly ; 

Farewell, Leicester Square. 
It s a long, long way to Tipperary, 
But my heart s right there." 

The lilt of the singing comes back to you, wistfully, 
across the still night. 

Who affects to despise that song with its mournful lilt 
and its sobbing choruses ? Not those who heard it during 
these August days and nights when brave men were going 
to death in battalions with its haunting foolishness upon 
their lips and ringing in their ears ! Not those who lay 


awake through the stifling nights listening to it, hour 
after hour until the words became burned upon memory, 
and brain and body throbbed with its incessant cadences ! 

I speak for myself ; so far as I am concerned " Tip- 
perary is sacred. As I heard it, it was the song of 
dying men; I think, of the best and bravest men this 
world ever saw ; it was their song because they chose it 
and because it comforted them. 

All night they sang it, thousands and tens of thousands, 
as they marched between the ships in the harbour and 
the camps on the hill, through the narrow, hot, smelly 
streets of the French town. 

The sound awoke me and brought me to my bedroom 
window to watch them as they went. The long street 
was full of them, of them and their song, from end to 
end. In the dim morning light it was as though I stood 
upon the high bank of a great river and watched a torrent 
of swollen, muddy water covered with flecks of foam 
sweep by beneath my feet ; the faces of the men were 
the foam upon the torrent s breast. . . . Then the sun 
light welled up from behind the hill, heralding the sun, 
and it seemed that a shower of living gold fell upon the 
moving throng, touching the boy faces with glory. The 
boys looked up into the sunlight and paused a moment 
in their singing to laugh for joy of it, and then again 
the throb of the chorus swelled and died through echoing 

Above the fishing village and the new town is the old 
town, the walled city of Boulogne which history knows ; 
and above the walled city again the yellow road is 
divided ; one branch of the road goes to Calais and the 
other branch to St. Omer and Lille. 

They pitched the camps up here near the branching 


of the roads, and when you climbed the hill you came to 
a new city of white tents and waggons and tethered 
horses, and men moving about in their shirt-sleeves with 
the fag-ends of cigarettes in their mouths watching the 
horses and making preparation for the feeding of their 
comrades. A scene of abounding life it was which re 
joiced the heart ; a carnival of youth upon the threshold 
of mighty adventure. The great guns that protrude 
their snouts so formidably from between the wheels of 
the cars, and the huge pontoons, each like a lifeboat 
upon its carriage, and the artillery waggons, and the 
stamping, shifting mob of the horses and the tents and 
the ambulances, seemed like the playthings of giants 
heaped together for their entertaining. 

You might walk where you chose along the grassy 
avenues between the tents and watch the life of the new 
city which yesterday was not, and which to-morrow 
would have vanished beyond the distant slopes. You 
might hear the merry talk, the jokes and laughter which 
were the cordial of this company ; you might see the 
brawny cooks pouring soup from huge cauldrons which 
seemed to have been shaped for giants, or staggering 
under the weight of mighty rations which sent up a thin 
vapour of steam upon the sunny air. You might watch 
the barber at his work outside his tent and listen to the 
chatter of his customers while he shaved and clipped 
them, or you might visit the blacksmith at his forge and 
see in how deft a manner he performed his task. 

There were young men and old men in this company ; 
men who had had their salting on the Indian frontier 
and wore a strip of ribbon proudly over their hearts ; 
men who fought through the grim days of South Africa 
and saw Buller ride into Ladysmith and Roberts go up 


to Paardeberg. And there were men who had never yet 
looked into the face of war, overgrown schoolboys from 
English villages, in Kipling s phrase " with the sap of 
good English beef in their cheeks " and the joy of Eng 
land in their blood. The talk of all of them was of the 
war ; but they talked of a war which has never been 
fought and never will be, of an adventure-war of glorious 
battles and great surprises and unending victory ; a war 
like the great wars of old days, full of deeds and actions, 
wherein the happy warrior found at last the desire of his 
spirit ; a short war too, of days or weeks, with a quick 
return and a long aftermath of rejoicing. 

The officers knew better ; and theirs were the only 
grave faces in this cheerful company. They moved about, 
quiet men busy with duties that had become a part of 
nature : they talked very little, and if you spoke to them 
they told you that they knew nothing at all. But occa 
sionally you might see a wistful look in the eyes of some 
of them, especially the boys, which said much more than 
speech could have said the look a man wears when he 
thinks of his home and of his mother whom he will not 
see again this side of the grave. 

A sergeant, who had fought in the Boer War, with 
whom I talked a long while, bade me note the difference 
between the faces of the men and the faces of the 
officers. " It is education which makes the difference, 53 
he said, " because at heart they are the same men. But 
the educated man has a finer temper on him, that s all ; 
he can see ahead and he can compare things and draw 
conclusions. Look at our boys now ; they would hug 
the Germans to their hearts ; they love them because 
they have put up a fight and given them this show. But 
wait a little. Wait till the Germans hurt them and get 


their blood stirred. Then you ll see what you will see. 
I have seen it all before, and I know. We can be an 
ugly crowd just as much as we can be a jolly crowd." 

He was still speaking when a bunch of horses that were 
being brought up the hill from the watering took fright 
badly and bolted. They came up past us like the finish 
of a Newmarket gallop, and the boy who had charge of 
them nearly lost his seat half a dozen times in as many 
seconds. A chubby-faced, fair-haired lad he was with 
strong white teeth that you saw gleaming through his 
parted lips. When he realised that he couldn t stop the 
mad rush he did a bold and plucky thing very quickly. 
He swung himself from his seat to the ground and threw 
all his weight on the leading ropes that held his team 
together. For a moment he seemed to be tossed away 
by the flying hoofs like a cork on a rushing stream ; but 
he stuck it gamely. And as he held on the pace of the 
horses slackened so that it was possible for him to regain 
his legs and pull backwards as he ran. A moment later 
the rush was checked and the horses stood still looking 
about them as if surprised that they could have behaved 
so foolishly. The boy led them back to where I stood, 
and as he passed I noticed an angry flush on his face, 
and an angry light in his eyes. The sergeant smiled and 

It will be just like that on a bigger scale presently, 3 
he said. 

He had a shrewd knowledge, had that sergeant in the 
hill-camp above Boulogne. 

At night they struck camp and went away beyond the 
green hills. They went silently in the dead of night so 
that no man saw them of all the men and women who 
had watched and welcomed their coming. Nor did any 


hear them, for there are few townspeople on that high 
plateau, and the townspeople go early to bed. It was 
strange, the manner of their going, and sinister because 
at that hour every heart quailed at the news that was 
coming to the town the news of the agony of Brussels 
and of the avalanche that was sweeping southward to 
wards France. 

The merciless August sun rose up on white tents that 
were silent and empty and his first rays played sadly upon 
the dead embers of fires grown cold under the dew. The 
guns and the waggons and the great pontoons and the 
horses and the boy faces, that made you think twas a 
game they played, were all vanished away and only the 
muddied avenues between the tents and the footprints 
upon the grass remained to bear testimony to their pas 
sage. You gazed across the green distances and saw a 
smiling land waking serenely to the day s adventure ; 
you heard, far away, the voices of the country, that 
make silence golden ; but you heard no more the voices 
that yesterday rang so gaily in your ears, nor the tramp 
of marching feet, nor the rolling of the great wheels on 
the hard road. 

The days of her darkness had come indeed upon this 
land of France. 

Yet not all of those who had come were set out upon 
this terrible journey. A few remained who should 
escape this horror of the frontierland about Mons now 
brewing behind the sunny hills. 

At the top of the hill stands a great, dark house, that 
was once the home of a religious sisterhood. In the days 
when France rose up against her religious orders the 
house on the hill fell upon bad times, and one night the 
mob came to it and took it by storm against the devoted 


women who were ready to give their lives in its defence. 
The mob broke into the old house and wreaked their 
savage anger upon it ; they broke the windows and 
destroyed the rooms, and what they were unable to accom 
plish in the matter of destruction, the fire they called 
to their aid accomplished for them, so that the place 
became a ruin with grass-grown walls and empty courts 
and broken doors that beat dismally against their jambs 
when the night winds blew. 

It was no man s business to rebuild the broken walls, 
and authority forbade the return of the dispossessed, so 
that the place stood a ruin for a long while awaiting the 
new destiny which Fate had ordained for it. The march 
ing men who came up the hill from the ships saw it and 
looked up wonderingly at the gaping windows and black 
ened walls, and asked eager questions concerning the 
tragedy which had befallen it. The marching men passed 
on ; but the doctors and the ambulance men who accom 
panied them lingered behind, because they saw that 
within these walls it would be possible to arrange a 
temporary hospital to accommodate early casualties that 
would in the ordinary course of events be brought down 
to them. 

They were adaptable men these army doctors, and they 
soon got to work upon the ruin and brought some sort 
of order into its chaos. They found that there remained 
one wing of the building with a sound roof and a sound 
floor ; and into this they brought beds and bedclothes 
and stoves and tables and cases of instruments and bottles 
of antiseptics and dressings, and the hundred and one 
things which go to make up a hospital equipment. They 
did the work very quickly, because there was no time to 
lose and because no man could say how soon, out of the 


mystery-country beyond the hills, the waggons with the 
red crosses would return loaded up with victims. 

I saw their work on the day after the marching men 
went away. Good work it was, though necessarily a little 
rough and ready. They had some thirty beds in the 
hospital, I think, and some half-dozen doctors to look 
after it. The doctors lived in a tent which was pitched 
in the convent garden, and they had their food in 
another tent around which rose bushes were blooming. 
They gave me tea in this tent, and we talked about the 
war and about the tragedy of Belgium which I had 
witnessed. They told me that they did not know how 
long they might stay in the old house, nor whether it 
was proposed to make a great hospital base in Boulogne 
or not. They said that depended probably on the course 
of events at the front, of which already there was a total 
lack of news. Fine fellows they were, of the best stamp, 
ready to give their lives at any moment in the perform 
ance of duty. 

But I think often how small that preparation was for 
the tremendous events which were to come and how it 
proved, in its way, that no man had envisaged the extent 
of this catastrophe. In other days I was to see a new 
hospital rise up under the shadow of those walls, and a 
whole city of hospitals stretched out below the hill by 
the sea, and then to learn that even that vast preparation 
could but touch the fringe of the agony and sorrow that 
flowed out like a broad river from the smoke and welter 
of war. 


THE cafes of Boulogne, like the cafes of Brussels, 
were busy these days of waiting, but there was a 
difference that not even the dullest wit could fail to 
apprehend. The people of France are not like the people 
of Belgium, though they speak the same language and 
breathe the same air. The people of France are very 
old in the knowledge of war, and they have suffered 
grievous things in the acquiring of that knowledge. The 
bitter days of 1870 have left their indelible stamp upon 
this proud people, and the heart of France cherishes that 
memory as a man s heart conceals the knowledge of a 
wrong that may not be forgotten nor forgiven. 

There were Frenchmen in these Boulogne cafes who 
remembered 1870 ; and there were men who with their 
own eyes had seen the terrors and humiliation of that 
calamity. These men were like a people apart and they 
held aloof, in their greater knowledge, from the mirth 
and hopefulness of the boys who wore their new uniforms 
so gaily. They had dim eyes that held a smouldering fire, 
and when they talked with you you saw their hands 
clench and their teeth set as the tide of memory carried 
them backwards. Their eyes blazed at a hundred grim 
recollections, and the deep note of passion made their 
voices strangely eloquent. 



This man is a colonel of infantry, but then he was a 
private in the ranks. He tells the story of Sedan over 
again and the fearful days which followed that debacle. 
He recounts small intimate details that bring all a man s 
blood into his face for anger and shame. He speaks first 
in low tones that are like a whisper, and then huskily as 
his voice grows stronger, until at last he holds you by 
the very force of his words. 

" The Germans . . . they are not men, they are bar 
barians. I know as to-morrow you also will know, and all 
the world. Where they go there they pollute, and the 
blood of innocent victims is left to cry out for vengeance. 
The heart of France has been broken, but this day is the 
beginning of a new world for France. It is not revenge, 
it is retribution ; we may suffer, we may die, but we shall 
triumph. France must triumph or she must pass for ever." 

And then in softer tones you hear him add : 

" We have not nursed the spirit of revenge, God 
knows. We have worked for peace and lived for peace 
and hoped for peace. But Fate has willed. To-day the 
bitterness and the shame of that year have come again 
from the graves wherein we laid them, and as we are 
men we must strike. . . ." 

There is a doctor in the company whose hair is white 
like silver. He is of the same view, though he speaks his 
thoughts differently. 

" There are forty years/ he says, " which when this 
war is ended we shall wipe away from the story of France. 
Yet we shall not forget them the forty years of bitter 
ness that were hidden beneath the mask of mirth. As a 
man remembers the hours of his weakness we shall know 
them, and France shall know them . . . for these hours 
the price is death. . . ," 


On the Sunday which followed the passing of the Army 
they had a religious procession through the streets of 
the town. It was the old, old procession of Our Lady, 
whose kind spirit goes forth to the fisher-folk those who 
depart to the fishing grounds of the North and those 
who wait and fear at home. In the days when they made 
war on the religious orders the procession was forbidden 
though the people hankered after it bitterly ; but in 
these new days, when a man s life was measured only by 
moments and hours, and men and women besought in 
fierce anguish the mercy and comfort of God, there was 
no man who durst forbid or censure it. 

So they held it as of old, and as of old the fisher-folk 
came in their best clothes and lined the narrow streets 
from the church under the walled city to the quays, 
where the boats lie, and back again by other streets to 
the church. 

But not the fisher-folk alone. In the crowd were all 
manner of men of all manner of peoples. Shopkeepers 
were there, and wealthy merchants from the villas along 
the digue, and soldiers in their long blue overcoats with 
the ends buttoned up, and dashing cavalry men in sky- 
blue tunics, and here and there a sprinkling of our 
British khaki, where an ambulance man from the hospital 
on the hill stood to watch the spectacle. There were 
fashionably dressed women too who had come to Bou 
logne to play in the Casino or bathe on the beach before 
the war clouds gathered and who had lingered after 
wards because of the fascination that held them ; there 
were women of the town and a few women of the street 
come already from Paris in anticipation of gain, like 
vultures to a carcase. Also there were children in their 
summer frocks carrying pails and spades, and merry, 


without a care for all the sorrow that lay hid about 

The procession came slowly along the streets, and it 
consisted chiefly of children and young women. The 
children and the women were dressed in white linen that 
fell to their feet in ample folds, and the women wore 
thin veils over their faces and carried, some of them 
nets and some fish baskets in token of the character of 
the procession. They moved slowly with rhythmic steps, 
and their faces were grave and sorrowful, as only the faces 
of the fisher-folk of Northern France can be. A few of 
them had red eyes, as though they had wept a little 
before setting out, and these, you might guess, had taken 
leave during the last days of father or brother or lover 
when the order of mobilisation was posted up through 
the land, in all the villages and hamlets. There were 
also some older women wearing the costume of the fisher- 
folk, which is beautiful in a barbaric sort of way and which 
depends for its effect chiefly upon the elaborate shawl 
that is bound over the shoulders. 

Behind the long ranks of the women the clergy walked, 
bearing, under gaudy canopies, holy relics, at sight of which 
men bared their heads and women fell weeping and 
praying upon their knees. And after the relics the Blessed 
Sacrament, in a golden monstrance, was carried by the 
Bishop himself arrayed in his vestments. There was 
sweet singing as the sacrament went by an old chant 
that rose and fell in wonderful cadences and the multi 
tude in the streets grew still and silent and bent in deep 
reverence and adoration. 

They carried the figure of the crucified Saviour too 
upon a great golden cross, that men might turn their 
gaze for a brief moment away from the spectacle of 


murder and bloodshed and behold the face of Everlasting 

Behind the hills they have already begun the work of 
death, but here in this seaport town men and women are 
waiting for news through long days that parch and scorch 
so that the very air seems to have become charged with 
fire. The veil of mystery which hangs above the hills is 
impenetrable now, and only rarely does a whisper reach 
the town of the fearful doings a dozen leagues away. The 
whispers are heard when the service motor-cars come 
down, and at that time you may see men with anxious 
faces hurrying in and out of the Hotel Bristol on the 
quays, where a handful of British Staff Officers have been 

At first the whispers are reassuring, but very soon a 
new note is sounded that chills anticipation. The British 
Army is fighting, somewhere along the Belgian frontier ; 
no man can say what the issue of the fight may be, but 
the hordes which the enemy is pouring down upon the 
borders of France are like the waves of an irresistible 
tide. You may kill and kill but after your hands are 
tired and your eyes grow dim there are new ranks in the 
places of the old ones, and new enemies coming against 
you as though you had not lifted hand in your defence. 33 

So they talk on quay and digue^ and so they relate in 
the cafes when the day s weary work is done. In the 
cafes they still argue as though war could be decided by 
talk, yet the strangers are going away silently and swiftly 
by every boat that leaves the pier, and by every train 
that runs to the southward. In the cafes, if you have 
patience to listen to them, they will tell you that Namur 
is a second Liege, and that it will hold the enemy in 
check for a fortnight at least, by which time the army 


of the Allies will have been able to consolidate its posi 
tions. " With Namur as a pivot our forces will sweep 
round upon Brussels and drive the German back upon 
the banks of his Rhine. 3 

You may derive a little comfort from this talking, but 
your comfort will scarcely last you through the long 
hours of night, when a man sees the worst and not the 
best of things and makes coward provision against the 
incalculable chances of the morrow. 

The news that comes with the midday boat from 
England is still the fullest and the most reliable, and so 
all the English folk and some Frenchmen as well gather 
on the pier to await the boat s coming. They gather 
an hour before the scheduled time, because it is impossible 
to rest in the hotels, where rumour has never done with 
her muttering. They claim the right of equal citizen 
ship to introduce them one to the other, and there is 
the suggestion of boded ill in the way they crowd to 
gether upon the platforms where they are making ready 
the long train for Paris or in the buffet where the dinner 
tables are set out. 

The talk is ever in the same strain, a weary repetition 
of terms newly culled from newspaper and strategy 
book ; but because it is all that there is to talk about 
men and women alike devote themselves to it. You are 
reminded of the talk of doctors around the bed of a sick 
man when technical language is used to cover up dark 
forebodings or to make a pretence of obscuring the 

Yet one hope remains, like a rock set among shoals. 
It is Namur. Namur is as strong as Liege, and Liege 
held out during many days. Namur is girdled with im 
pregnable forts and armoured with guns that are of 


longer range than any field piece. A handful of men 
could hold this fortress against a great army, and already 
great armies are moving to its defence. So long as there 
is Namur there is good hope. 

The ship glides in while the talk is still in full tide, 
and you are impelled by an irresistible curiosity towards 
her. As the passengers come down the gangways you 
begin to question them. You ask them all manner of 
questions which it is manifestly impossible that they can 
answer, but they do not resent this intrusion because 
they too are upon the rack of uncertainty. To-day their 
faces are very grave and an atmosphere of gloom seems 
to hang over the white decks of the steamer on which 
they stand. You feel it already the catastrophe which 
these have known of during many hours, and which 
within a few minutes you also will know. With hands 
that are unsteady you open the newspaper which has just 
been thrown to you across the deck rails. 

" It is officially announced that Namur has fallen." 

A quiet voice, which you recognise as that of a French 
officer who is always a member of the crowd upon the 
quay, discloses the meaning of this supreme catastrophe 
while you stand gazing dimly at the stream of passengers 
on the gangways. " If Namur has fallen," he says, " then 
the pivot of the whole operation is lost. The army must 
retreat or be outflanked." And as you pass up the hot 
street to your hotel you see again the vision of Brussels 
in her last days, when another army was retreating, and 
another people awaking to a knowledge that it had been 
left naked to its enemy. 

Nor are you kept long in doubt as to the truth of the 
intelligence. On the way to the hotel you encounter 
one of the ambulances attached to the hospital on the 


hill rolling slowly down towards the quay. The ambu 
lance is filled with beds and bedding and hospital equip 
ment, and the men driving it wear ominous puzzled 
expressions that you have not seen before on the faces of 
British soldiers. The Hotel Bristol too is packing, and 
reminds you of similar places in the Scottish Highlands 
at the end of the season. Only there is greater haste 
about this bundling together of furniture and effects. 

What is the meaning of it ? you ask, and are answered 
by the faces of the townspeople who are spectators of 
this abandonment : 

" C est terrible ca, Monsieur: les Anglais vont partir," 
they tell you with the light of a great fear dawning in 
their eyes. They stand in little groups in the streets and 
talk quickly together as though time, even for talking, 
was short. . . . And the ambulances and waggons go 
by in a long procession that is mournful as a funeral 

All that day and the next the process of going away 
continues, because there were, it appears, great stores of 
provisions and hospital equipment in the quay sheds, 
and these must not be left to the enemy should he care 
to come, in passing, to the " open town (mile ouverte) 
of Boulogne. You may lie in bed and hear the rolling 
wheels through open windows that admit a little coolness 
in the stifling heat, and you may hear the crack of a whip 
and the occasional voices of men who talk together 
eagerly as they ride by. ... In the morning you will 
see that yet another of the great transports has vanished 
from the harbour. 

The fall of Namur was like the fall of Jericho. At the 
seventh blast of the trumpets it fell, and to this hour the 
why and the wherefore of that calamity are obscure. 


" But this," as the French officer said, " is certain, the 
pivot of the Allied armies was destroyed in the fall, and 
the threat of envelopment to the armies made actual 
and imminent. 3 

You will understand the position if you glance at the 
rough diagrams I have made of it. The heavy line is the 

.> o 

i. How the Allies hoped to relieve Brussels. 

line of the Allies on that memorable Saturday morning, 
August 22, when their army was stretched out in its long 
lines to meet the advance of the Germans from Brussels. 

The dotted line drawn between Namur and Brussels 
shows the method in which it was proposed to sweep the 
Germans back again, using Namur as a pivot. 

In the second diagram you may see at a single glance 
how the plan miscarried, how the fall of Namur spoiled 
the whole plan of the campaign and left the British Army 
hanging in the air and isolated upon the Belgian frontier. 

Why did the calamity occur so suddenly and so unex 
pectedly ? The answer is the old answer of history, 
which has explained almost all the catastrophes of which 
war keeps record. There was an enemy force where no 
enemy force was looked for ; and the unlooked-for forces 
were stronger than those which had been expected. 

The generals of the allied army expected to be attacked 
in front by an army coming due south from Brussels. 
They were so attacked ; but they were also attacked in 


flank, on their right wing, by an army which had come 
straight down from Liege along the Meuse, using both 
banks of the river for its advance, and by another army 
coming from the east towards Namur. (Fig. 2.) 



O/Tons Oftcn-mr Line of urfjt/o feted ci. 

z. The unexpected German attack which frustrated the Allies plan. 

The unexpected attacks overwhelmed the French force 
and, when Namur fell, drove it back ; for the French 
force was in great danger of having its right flank turned 
and its lines of communication cut. 

How near our armies were to extinction on that day 
is a thought which even yet may well chill the heart. 
When the French began to retreat on Saturday after 
noon, August 22, they were not able, because the In 
telligence Service had broken down, to inform their 
British allies of the fact, and so Sir John French held his 
ground against the attack which was delivered at him 
from the north until Sunday afternoon. He held his 
ground though he was outnumbered and outclassed so 
far as guns were concerned, and the story of his stand, 
there, amongst the canals and fields of Mons is one of 
the most splendid in our history. On Sunday afternoon 
news that the French had retired reached the British 
Commander. And then he knew that the British Army 
was alone with unprotected flanks amid hundreds of 
thousands of the enemy. 

The British Army was all but surrounded, for already 


the German Armies, which had taken Namur and forced 
the retreat of the French, were advancing against it from 
the east: another German Army, the army of Von 
Kluck, faced it in the north, and attempts were being 
made to surround it on the west also. The British Army 
was in the jaws of a huge trap, and at any moment the 
jaws might close and seize it. And in that case the 
tragedy of Sedan would be repeated, for what could 
70,000 men accomplish against the 200,000 coming 
against them. 

Some of the men of our army were bathing when the 
first attack came upon them in the form of a charge by 
German cavalry. The Germans rode down upon the 
helpless men and thought to destroy them at their ease. 
But if there was no time to recover clothing there was 
time to grasp a rifle and shoot. Stark naked these men 
stood together to sell their lives by the shore of the little 
lake in which they had been enjoying themselves a few 
moments before, until help came to them and the enemy 
was driven off. 

The battle which the British Army fought on that 
Sunday of the first German attack upon it ended not in 
defeat but in victory, and the victory saved the army. 
Because of the victory it was possible to retreat, when 
night fell, and so to get nearer to the French force 
already gone southwards. The victory was the starting- 
point of the terrific " Retreat from Mons," which, vic 
toriously begun, was destined to reach again a victorious 
ending. No man, save those who fought and struggled 
and endured during those terrible days of heat and those 
terrible nights of hunger and suffering, saw all the course 
of this Retreat or has a first-hand knowledge of all its 
amazing incidents, and so a full description must be left 


to those and they are terribly few who survive to 
write it. But that small part of it which I did see I shall 
set forth fully, because the story of these days is amongst 
the greatest, the very greatest, of all our history. 

Meantime, in the port of Boulogne the terror spread 
itself insidiously, so that, where one had known a hundred 
knew ; where one had feared all were filled with dismay. 
In the middle of this anxiety there came one afternoon 
to the town the strangest body of troops which it has 
ever fallen to my lot to behold. They came in two long 
trains, the carriages of which were Belgian, though the 
engines were French. They crowded the train so that 
there seemed to be no space left in any of the compart 
ments, and they sat upon the roofs of the carriages and 
upon the tenders of the engines. As the trains drew into 
the terminus they cheered and waved their hats and sang 
the Braban^onne and then the Marseillaise, and the 
townspeople flocked out across the bridges to gain a 
closer view of them and to learn who they were and 
why they had come. 

The townspeople learned that they were the Belgian 
soldiers who had defended Namur and who had escaped 
from the fortress before the enemy took possession of it. 
They told strange stories of great shells that demolished 
whole streets in their bursting, and of war by air which 
completed the panic wrought by the shells ; and they 
described the last awful days in the town when men and 
women came forth from their cellars with their children 
to flee from the coming terror and were engulfed, they 
and their children, in the roads and byways under the 
hail of death. 

The Belgian soldiers cheered the townspeople with 
some of their stories, for they said that the Germans were 


defeated and had been driven back, and that all danger 
of an advance upon the coast was passed. They were full 
of splendid optimism, which, indeed, seems to be one of 
the birthrights of this race, and when they went away 
in these suffocating trains they left more happiness behind 
them than the town had known for many days. . . . 
But this happiness was not destined to endure. 

Why the Germans did not take Boulogne and Calais 
and Dunkirk during these days is one of the mysteries of 
this astonishing period. I speak with knowledge when I 
say that half a dozen Uhlans could have taken Boulogne 
any day during nearly a fortnight and the Uhlans had 
ridden as far west as St. Omer at one period which 
is about thirty miles from the port. Boulogne was utterly 
unprotected, and every hour her citizens expected the 
enemy to ride into her streets. When men woke in the 
morning they looked first at the flag flying over the citadel 
to see whether it was still the Tricolour of France which 
flew there ; and no man certainly would have been sur 
prised if he had discovered the black and red and white 
of the enemy in the place of the red and white and blue. 
When one thinks of the awful price that was to be paid 
later in bitter attempts to reach the seaboard, that early 
failure to take it becomes more and more inexplicable. 
It seems indeed like one of the jests of a grim Fate which 
having opened the door of opportunity shuts it again 
before the promised land has been obtained. 

A week after the going of the English Boulogne was a 
place of fear and silence. The hotels were empty, the 
digue deserted, the streets like the streets of a town 
stricken by some visitation of God. Not a uniform was 
to be seen where so many had been displayed, and the 
long rows of tables in the cafes stood forsaken and melan- 


choly. Even the humble customs officers had discarded 
their long blue coats and their bayonets, and went about 
in plain clothes for safety, lest the conqueror should sup 
pose that resistance was contemplated. . . . One night 
the craft in the harbour, the trawlers and fishing vessels 
and steamers moved out in a body to anchor beyond the 
sea wall, and that same night the cross-Channel steamer 
did not lie at her berth, but returned to Folkestone. In 
the dead of night they removed the last of the archives 
and valuables which it was deemed necessary to save from 
the coming disaster. ... It is possible even that two 
Uhlans might have taken and occupied Boulogne. 

The exodus from that Northern land was like the 
exodus of a whole world which flees into exile, counting 
all lost save only life itself. Once again within living 
memory the terror was come upon France. France has 
no need to be warned concerning the fate which would 
be meted out to her. The trains were very few, and 
those trains that did run were besieged as the ark may 
have been besieged when the floods began to rise upon 
the earth. Salvation lay along the railroads and in the 
trains ; and when the trains had departed there was no 
salvation. Every station therefore became a battle 
field in which men fought for their womenfolk and 
women for their children and babes. You could not 
help, and so you hid your eyes that you might not 
see and tried to shut your ears that you might not 
hear. . . . 

I came to Amiens while the terror and the fleeing into 
exile were at their height. I came about midnight, and 
on the way was vouchsafed a glimpse of the pilgrimage 
of sorrow which on that day choked every road in 
Artois and overflowed into every field and meadow 


the pilgrimage that was like the bleeding to death of 
a whole nation, so vast was it, and so long, and so 

This was not the same spectacle which I saw in Brussels, 
when the peasants came to the city from the east country 
after the army had fallen back behind the forts of Ant 
werp. This catastrophe was a greater thing, as the light 
of the sun is greater than the light of a candle. This was 
a world which fell, and the sorrow of its fall went up to 
the skies because these people were without hope in their 
dark hour. These people believed, as we all of us came 
so very near believing, that the end had indeed been 
accomplished, that the armies had been smitten asunder, 
that the armies were reeling back, vanquished and broken, 
before the foe, and that the fair bosom of France lay 
defenceless, and at the mercy of the spoiler. 

Easy it is now to speak of these fears as cowards fears 
and to upbraid the craven spirit which harboured them. 
But that day smote courage out of the heart by the 
mere agony of the spectacle which it presented to casual 
eyes. On the roads of France leading into Amiens you 
saw a hundred sights, every one of which in other 
days would have wrung your heart and haunted your 

You saw a great mass of humanity moving in a phalanx 
the solidity of which was broken only by the vehicles 
which endeavoured to force a passage through it. You 
saw men supporting children who drooped with fatigue 
and women labouring under the weight of babes they 
had carried over miles of unsheltered roadway under a 
blazing sun. The faces of those poor people were terrible 
because a dull tragedy seemed to have become imprinted 
upon them ; only their eyes held the wistfulness of 


animals being herded to slaughter. Sometimes the chil 
dren whimpered a little because their feet were sore and 
blistered with walking, and sometimes they threw them 
selves down in sheer exhaustion. Then father or mother 
would attempt to drag them along or even to goad them 
by blows to a further effort ; because this procession 
paused not day or night in its going ; and to be left behind 
was to fall living into the hands of wrath. 

You saw very old women who had ceased even to feel 
afraid in the dull agony of the march, and who toiled 
along as though under the influence of some benumbing 
drug, their faces wet with perspiration and caked with 
dust, and their white hair falling dishevelled on their 
shoulders ; their clothing, the best clothing they pos 
sessed, was sadly torn and muddied. A few of them 
carried possessions with them in handkerchiefs, held 
tightly with a clasp that had become automatic : others 
had cast their possessions away because they proved too 
heavy and because the idea of saving anything out of 
their ruin appeared fantastic. So there were many of 
these little foolish bundles upon the roadway, and men 
tripped upon them and cursed them as they passed. But 
women stooped to pick them up. 

Some of the stronger members of the company 
wheeled hand-carts laden with their furniture. This 
had seemed a good plan in the cool of the early morning, 
but now it was torture scarcely to be endured. The 
carts dragged miserably, and the strength required to 
propel them was out of all proportion to the value of 
their freight. But a few of the men had thrown their 
furniture away and placed tired little boys and girls 
upon the carts, and so love had her abiding places even 
here in this army of the dispossessed. Once I saw an 


old woman in one of these carts with a child in her arms ; 
a man and woman, evidently her son and daughter-in- 
law, pushed it. 

A few had tried to drive away their cattle, and so you 
saw sheep and oxen mingling with the human stream, 
and you also saw many horses with strange riders perched 
on their backs. There were bullock-waggons in which 
the more fortunate rode in some comfort, and horse 
vehicles with farmers and their families who yesterday 
were prosperous people. 

For the most part they were of the peasant and farm 
ing class these people ; tall men and hard-featured 
women and pretty little children not yet fallen victims 
to the weariness of the peasant life. But sometimes you 
could distinguish other types a priest, perhaps, walking 
sadly amongst his flock, trying to lighten their burdens 
and himself shouldering the burden of many with fine 
devotion (for these priests of Northern France my 
admiration will abide), or a soldier in khaki or in the 
long blue coat and culottes rouges of the French infantry, 
without his rifle, and with the look on his face which a 
man wears when he has no longer any care for life or 

They pass, moving they scarce know whither, end 
lessly, like a flood. The skies above them are darkened 
with the coming of night, and the requiem of sunset is 
sung to the accompaniment of their dull feet. They do 
not look up ; their eyes are downcast always upon the 
road that is their torment and their hope. If you stand 
quite close to them, they will not see you ; the fierce 
hours of day have changed them, transmuting all the 
impulses of nature into baser causes. Like the wheels of 
a machine they grind the dust under their feet in their 


slow passing. . . . And the long road goes down to the 
river and up again to the hill. 

But they are not alone upon the road. Cleaving 
through their ranks like great ships go the heavy vehicles 
of war huge forage waggons and ammunition carts and 
ambulances full of wounded men. The hooting of the 
vehicles mingles harshly with the voices of the men and 
women they who have to crowd together in the ditches 
to let them pass. They go by furiously, as is the way and 
necessity of war without reck of the misery surging 
around them. Sometimes a huge car, its sleek panels 
gleaming still through dust which covers them, sweeps 
along the road, baying in its passage like a great dog. In 
dim interiors you may catch a glimpse of uniformed 
men who lean back among the cushions, seeing nothing, 
hearing nothing. The game of war, when it is played 
with this intensity, takes small thought of the pawns. . . . 
They complain very little these people without a home 
and without joy ; they go on in silence, into the night, 
amongst the shouting of the drivers and the baying of 
the motor-horns. . . . And Pity turns away her eyes 
that the funds of her grief may not be exhausted. 

After Mons the Germans detached a " flying corps 
to carry terror into the western provinces of North 
France and so prepare the way for the occupation of the 
seaboard, of Calais and Boulogne and Dieppe and Havre, 
after Paris should have fallen into their hands. The first 
objective of this body was necessarily Amiens, because 
Amiens is an important railway junction, and because 
the line of communication from the British front to the 
sea at Havre lay through Amiens. With Amiens in their 
hands the Germans could cut General French s Army 
from its supply columns and at the same time paralyse 


the resistance of the coast towns ; Rouen would fall 
easily then, and Havre with its great dockyards and its 
command of the mouth of the Seine. 

The flying column consisted of cavalry and motor 
sections, the dreaded Uhlans of 1870 and a new race of 
Uhlans still more terrible because their rate of movement 
had been multiplied tenfold and their power of inflict 
ing damage increased in proportion. These raiders on 
horse and in motor-car swept down the roads of Artois 
towards the town of Amiens with terrible speed, driving 
the terrified inhabitants in front of them. They it was 
who were responsible for the procession of grief wending 
its weary way towards the town ; they were the spur 
upon these jaded and sorry men and women, driving 
them on even when strength had become exhausted. The 
lively horror of their coming went with that company 
through every kilometre of its long journeying and 
wrought the silence which made of the exodus a spec 
tacle strange and terrible. 

But the exodus from Northern France was not only 
by road. It was not even chiefly by road. The railways 
bore the brunt of it, and their work will -live in the 
memory of all who saw those stations and those trains 
and witnessed the scenes of anguish which were afforded 
by them. I stood all night on the platform of Amiens 
station and watched these refugee trains and the trains 
full of wounded men fresh from the battle-fields and the 
trains that hurried reinforcements to the front French 
and British the trains that came from Calais and 
Boulogne with cross-Channel passengers, whose first 
knowledge of the terror was gleaned from the sights 
they saw through the windows of the carriages. The 
sound of these trains was like the far-off rolling of 


thunder amongst the hills, and the spectacle which they 
presented was like the ruin of a whole people. 

The very spirit of disaster seemed to be contained 
under the glass dome of the station, of disaster and con 
fusion and dismay. The platforms were congested with 
all manner of types of people, refugees like those upon 
the roads, and soldiers who had lost their regiments, and 
well-to-do townsfolk hurrying away from the danger, and 
Americans rushing to Paris. There were a few British 
officers too, but these held aloof and viewed the scene 
with quiet patience, hiding their thoughts under a mask 
of indifference. No sort of attempt was made to stem 
this human flood, which grew fuller every hour, and no 
man seemed to know in what manner it would be dis 
posed of. The whole railway system was disorganised ; 
trains came and went, apparently uncontrolled. Those 
going to the south were besieged, taken by storm in the 
twinkling of an eye. People did not pause in that 
critical hour to differentiate between destinations, Havre 
or Paris or Dieppe, it was immaterial so long as the coast 
was reached or the way opened for further flight. . . . 
Far away you could hear the booming of the guns like 
an echo upon the calm air of night. 

Your mind becomes, dull and confused in all this 
endless confusion. There seems to be no established 
order in things, and all the values of life have been 
changed. The things which mattered yesterday are 
to-day nothing : only the stark facts of life and death 
remain in a world become suddenly fierce and hard and 

Yet your apathy is swept away in a single instant when 
the first of the great trains of wounded from the battle 
field creeps up to you along the platform of the station. 


At the sight of the men of Mons a new kindling of the 
spirit is wrought and a new edge given to pain. 

The long train grinds into the station, slowly, serpent- 
like, and then stops in a series of short, sharp jerks. The 
train is composed of horse-waggons, and the waggons 
have no brakes, so that when the engine stops all the 
waggons clash together and pull back again at their 
chains and clash together again. . . . The clashing of 
the waggons is punctuated by the groans of wounded 
men who lie on the straw within them and whose wounds 
are opened and jostled by the brakeless waggons. . . . 
That is the first swift impression. 

The train stops at last you can hear the panting of 
the great Nord engine above the moaning of the sorely 
wounded men lying on the straw. The moaning of the 
wounded men, however, is continuous, and the sound of 
it frightens the women and children waiting on the 
platform. Some of the children shriek, and so a shrill 
crying is added to the deeper voice of suffering. Grief 
has many tongues in this station at Amiens. 

You approach the waggon doors where the less severely 
wounded men are crowded together looking at you, but 
not speaking. They recognise that you are English and 
perhaps ask you for tobacco in curious level tones, almost 

Then a man speaks, to answer your unspoken question 

" Yes, it was hell . . . worse. . . ." 

You will never forget those railway waggons of the 
early days of war, those brakeless waggons with their 
straw carpets and their dismal interiors ; and you will 
hear long, long afterwards the pitiful moaning of the 
wounded men and their crying when the waggons jolted 
and jostled together. These were the lads who sang 


their way through the Boulogne streets so gaily only a 
short week ago, the lads who went away beyond the hills 
along the white roads of France. At last the curtain of 
doubt and secrecy is lifted up and they are back again, 
weary and broken, mangled in death, with pale cheeks 
that are blood-stained and mud-stained, and wistful eyes 
that beseech help when there is no help to give. 

They are come again ; and your heart is chill as you gaze 
upon this coming. This coming is terrible, as your worst 
fears did not picture it. Live rumour is already at work 
magnifying its terror, and the tale is told that these only 
have escaped from the maelstrom. The men speak ; and 
though they would cheer you if they could, their words 
are full of darkness. 

" Terrible beyond anything you can think of : their 
guns are awful, and we have no guns to meet them. Our 
guns are no use against that hail of shells. We did our 
best, and we re better men than they are, but it s hell . . . 

So one man speaks. Another declares that in all his 
life he has never known such fury of battle. " Yet our 
men fought like demons, 3 he says ; " they fought till 
they could fight no more, and then they began all over 
again. There were three of them to every one of us, 
and they came on in waves just like the sea. They were 
as many as the waves of the sea. We stood our ground 
with our dead and dying around us till they fell back in 
the darkness, and then we marched and marched through 
the night, back and back. ... In the morning we fought 
again that at night we might be able to retreat." 

The faces of the men are very strange : like the faces 
of men who have suffered some great and sudden shock. 
I have seen the expression in the eyes of a patient re- 


covering from the effects of a critical operation. It is 
a look at once wistful and bewildered and indifferent. 
These men, as yet, are separated from life by a barrier 
which is impenetrable as mist. They are divorced from 
all the interests of life. Now that the fierce effort is 
ended they fall into a kind of dream-state, a lethargy ; 
they can talk and they can laugh, but their talk is dis 
connected and fragmentary, and their laughter is like the 
ghost of the good laughter that you heard when they 
went away across the hills. 

So the tales these men tell you are not to be written 
down as the true story of the great encounter. They 
are not even to be considered seriously as representing 
the minds of those who tell them. To regard them in 
that way would be to fall into the mistake which was so 
common in these early days the mistake of seeing the 
war in little bits. Mons and the retreat which began 
at Mons and ended at the Marne were terrible beyond 
anything which has as yet been written concerning them ; 
but the Retreat from Mons was not, as events soon 
proved, a crowning disaster. 

The truth of the retreat is simple and must be borne 
in mind if these pages are to be read intelligently. The 
retreat began because Namur, the pivot of the Allied line, 
had been lost. The loss of Namur meant the danger of 
being surrounded on the right wing. The retreat con 
tinued until that danger had been minimised and until 
opportunity for a counter-stroke presented itself. 

The speed of the retreat is its most wonderful feature. 
Its speed, perhaps more than any other factor, turned 
the retreat into a victory. The heavy guns of the enemy 
were the cause of the fall of Namur ; the heavy guns of 
the enemy were the terror of which all these wounded 


men in the trains in Amiens station spoke. It was be 
cause the enemy was so strong in heavy guns that it was 
found impossible to withstand his advance. The retreat 
saved the armies from the heavy guns and outran the 
guns. In their eager haste the Germans got in front of 
their main artillery, just as they had done at Liege ; and 
when they came to fight the Battle of the Marne the 
" weight of metal was more evenly distributed over 
the two opposing forces. 


THE action which bears the name of " The Retreat 
from Mons lasted thirteen days from Sunday, 
August 23rd, till Saturday, September 5th. It covered 
about 100 miles. Reduced to its simplest terms, it was 
an action of day fights and night retiring movements. 
The fighting by day made the retiring by night possible. 
The fighting was of the fiercest character and the retiring 
of the most strenuous, because often food and water 
were difficult to obtain, and always the chance of obtain 
ing rest was infinitesimal. 

Our men lay where they had fought for a brief space 
at evening, and then, shouldering their rifles, moved 
back again on the long trail southwards. 

There were two events in the retreat that I must 
mention in passing, since the whole future of the struggle 
depended upon them. The first event was a battle 
fought on Tuesday night and Wednesday between the 
villages of Landrecies and Caudry, that is to say on a 
line about twenty miles south of Mons. This battle 
was the first real and serious attempt of the Germans to 
envelop and swallow up " General French s contemptible 
little army." The Germans had already engaged our 
army at Mons ; they had pursued it during two days 
and two nights in its retreat southwards. Now was to 



come the coup de grace which would end Britain s part 
in the war on land and wipe out at a blow the force of 
the hated English. 

The blow fell at night in a drizzle of rain when our 
tired men had thrown themselves down to snatch a 
short rest after their terrible struggle. The village of 
Landrecies, on the right of our line, was chosen for the 
first assault. The enemy threw himself in force against 
the village, believing that he had but to reach forth his 
hand to grasp the prize. 

But our men slept lightly, and in a few seconds they 
were afoot again and at work. " The Germans," one of 
them said, " came on like mad through the dark streets, 
pouring their fire into us, and we had to form up as best 
we could and collect ourselves and make some sort of 
reply to them. God knows how we managed it. It was 
done so fast that I scarcely remember what happened. 
All I know is that I shot and shot into the darkness till at 
last the houses of the town began to catch fire under the 
shells, and then we saw them and were able to get at 

The attack failed, but next day it was renewed all 
along the line with great fury. That day, Wednesday, 
August 26th, the fate of the British Army was decided. 
August 26th called the Battle of Le Cateau was a 
victory day because during its first hours Sir Horace 
Smith-Dorrien on the left and Sir Douglas Haig on the 
right held the mighty avalanche in check, so that during 
its later hours retreat on a great scale became possible 
once more. 

Once on that day the cavalry of the Prussian Guard 
rode into the lines of the British Infantry, and once at 
least the hearts of brave and devoted leaders quailed for 


the issue of the combat. Of that day Sir John French 
wrote some time later that it was " the most critical 
day of all, 3 and of Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, whose 
splendid resistance on the British left wing did so much 
to save the day, he wrote : " The saving of the left wing 
of the army under my command on the morning of the 
26th August could never have been accomplished unless 
a commander of rare and unusual coolness, intrepidity 
and determination had been present to personally con 
duct the operation. 53 

When I read those words I thought again of the little 
man with whom I had crossed the Channel, the little 
man with the tired eyes and the kindly face. 

The second event took place when the British Army 
was approaching the River Aisne from the northwards. 
It was the visit of General Joffre to General French s 
head-quarters. That visit was made in order to explain 
to the British Commander-in-Chief that the retreat 
must continue, in spite of the fact that the rearguard 
action against the Germans had been, on the whole, 
successful. General Joffre spoke for the whole line, not 
for the British part of it i.e. the extreme left. The 
centre of the line at Rheims was still being hard pressed, 
and it was essential that the wings should move back as 
the centre moved back, otherwise a hole might be driven 
into the long line. It was the German object to break 
the line and then " roll up " the two portions of the 
divided army separately, 

Out of that meeting came the further retreat of the 
British force from the Aisne to the Marne. 

How our men hated this retreating ! Again and again 

heard from their lips angry and amazed comments 
upon the action of their leaders. The men seemed to feel 


that they had a special grievance against leaders who 
each time that they " won a battle " ordered them to 
run away. But with characteristic esprit de corps they 
blamed the French commanders rather than their own. 
It was a French idea this retreating, they said, and it 

was a d n bad idea. Their opinion of the French 

commanders went down to zero during these days, even 
as it was to leap up again in the great days after the 
Battle of the Marne. The ordinary soldier does not 
think strategically, and he always views war strictly from 
the personal point of view. The idea that the whole 
line must move in unison according to a wide plan does 
not seem to have occurred to him. 

There remains, and will always remain, one commen 
tary upon the great retreat which by reason of its very 
boldness is illuminating. It is the commentary of 
figures. In the thirteen days of the Retreat from Mons 
the British Army suffered 15,142 casualties, of which 
276 were killed, 1223 wounded and 13,643 missing. . . . 
So that that sorrowful train-load in the station at Amiens, 
and the other train-loads which followed it, represented 
a mere fraction of the terrible penalty of retreat. The 
whole land of France, from the frontiers to the gates of 
Paris, was strewn with our dead and wounded, who had 
perforce to be left behind to the mercy of the advancing 
hosts of the foe. 

They abandoned Amiens to the " flying column of 
the enemy ; the flying column, cavalry and artillery 
and armoured motor-cars, took possession and made of 
the place its head-quarters. From Amiens a campaign 
of terror was to be waged against the land west of Paris, 
the villages upon the Seine, Rouen and the ports of 
Dieppe and Havre. The Germans seized the public 


offices in Amiens and found there a plentiful supply of 
official note-paper and passport forms. They lost not an 
hour in equipping their " land pirates with documents 
duly stamped and sealed which on presentation should 
gain them free passage along the roads of France. 

It was an amazing thing this raid which began at 
Amiens and spread out like the strands of a spider s web 
over all the land to the sea. There is reason to suppose 
that no fewer than 400 armed motor-cars took part in it. 
Each car carried four men, and these were dressed in the 
uniforms either of French or British officers. The cars 
sped away from Amiens at night and ran out into the 
surrounding districts. Their sole object was to spread 
terror. If they came to a village and were challenged 
they showed their papers, and if there was any trouble 
concerning these papers, they shot the sentry. When 
they got into the village street officers frequently fired 
with revolvers at the defenceless inhabitants. 

They went into Senlis in this way and spread terror 
through the little town, thus preparing the way for the 
advance of the main army : they visited also a hundred 
little villages on the plateau above the Seine, and they 
even dared to thrust down as far as Havre. 

The story of that astonishing dash has not, I think, 
been told in any detail. At the time some informa 
tion concerning it did leak out but was generally disbe 
lieved. The fact remains, however, that one day one 
of those cars attempted to get into the great French 
seaport and almost succeeded. On that day Havre 
was full of British soldiers and French Territorials, 
a great centre in its fullest activity ; it must have been 
abundantly clear to the bandits that nothing but death 
could possibly await them in these crowded and well- 


guarded streets. Yet so great was the presumption of 
the enemy at this time that not the least hesitation 
seems to have been shown. The car dashed towards the 
town by the low road along the river, and its way was 
not impeded. When it was challenged papers were im 
mediately produced, duly signed and stamped, and the 
sentries saluted and let it go. 

But just outside the town a sentry of a more in 
quisitive type ventured to ask questions of the bandits 
and to express doubts concerning their credentials. 
Instantly the car was set in motion. The sentry levelled 
his rifle, but before he could fire bullets were whizzing 
around his head and the car had dashed away along the 
flat, broad road. 

The sentry continued to fire after the car, and the 
noise of his firing attracted the attention of a carter who 
was driving his heavy waggon into the town. He saw 
his chance and took it. He drew his waggon across the 
road in front of the advancing car. Next instant the 
car crashed into the waggon and reeled back from it a 
mass of broken and twisted metal. Two at least of the 
bandits lay dead in the road, and the other two were 
quickly made prisoners. 

I have said that the story was generally disbelieved, 
yet in time exaggerated accounts of it did gain credence, 
and then accounts were added of similar doings in the 
country to northwards. So little by little the fear 
came down to Rouen and Havre as it had come to 
Brussels and Boulogne and Amiens, and once again the 
procession of the dispossessed began from these places. 
I came to Havre from Rouen just when the fear had 
begun to work, and so I saw all over again the scenes 
which I had come to regard as the inevitable concomi- 


tants of this struggle the terror and the suffering, and 
the weary marching over the long dusty roads. 

The railway journey from Amiens to Rouen was in 
deed a nightmare of discomfort and anxiety. The train 
was crowded so that not another human being could 
have been squeezed into its stifling compartments or 
granted a foothold upon the little verandahs which pro 
jected at either end of its carriages. The journey 
occupied fifteen hours, because every moment some new 
stoppage occurred and because the line was already con 
gested with a huge body of traffic. All along the line 
you might see the signs of the coming panic ; farm 
houses sleeping among their ripe orchards, already in 
many instances abandoned and desolate ; in others cases 
by twos and threes you could see the country folk begin 
ning their pilgrimage. Fields lay ungarnered, trees un 
picked, and sometimes when the train stopped men 
would run out of the carriages and pluck the fruit 
apples and pears no one hindering them. 

At Rouen you saw a town already in the throes of 
great anxiety. They had begun to empty the huge 
cattle parks by the river banks under the wooded hills 
which are the familiar landmarks of this exquisite town. 
There were still great herds of cattle in the parks, sheep 
and oxen from Normandy and Brittany, and their low 
ing and bleating made strange music in the chill dawn 
before the sun had climbed up from behind the hills. 
There were also great barges upon the river moving 
down stream from Paris before the threat of occupation 
which every hour became more menacing. These were 
the barges which one usually sees along the river banks 
by the Quais under the Eiffel Tower. Through that 
dim morning light the white spires of the Cathedral 


rose up clear and beautiful and delicate as lace, fingers 
pointing away from this clamour and moil to the things 
which are steadfast and unchangeable. 

At the station at Rouen they were busy unloading a 
train of wounded from the battle-field of La Cateau, 
where Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien made his great fight. It 
was another of those goods trains improvised for the use 
of the Ambulance Corps, with straw on the floors and 
a few rough wooden erections for swinging stretchers. 
You wondered as you looked at it why it was that whole 
men, civilians, might ride still in comparative luxury in 
first-class carriages, while broken and injured men must 
travel in these terrible brakeless waggons. But it was not 
possible to apportion blame, for this retreat had come 
upon a Medical Corps but little prepared to cope with it ; 
the Medical Corps had done what it could with heroic 
disregard for its own safety or comfort. The fault lay 
not here in the field, but in the Government offices, 
where they had not envisaged the possibility of using 
better means even though a lesson had been taught 
them years before in the case of the war in South Africa. 

They brought a couple of Highland officers from the 
train and carried them across the platform to the waiting 
ambulances. One of these men I remember had a boy 
face that was as white as the paving-stones they laid him 
down upon. The soiled dressings, which had been 
applied on the battle-field two days before, had become 
loosened and had shifted, and there was revealed a great 
gash in that boy s side, the very sight of which brought 
the sweat out upon your brow. The boy was smiling 
nevertheless and attempting to speak through his 
parched lips. He was gay even while his eyes looked into 
the eyes of death. 


You heard from some of these wounded men the 
cruel story of long days and nights spent in the goods 
waggons without food or water and without medical 
attendance. Medical attendance in these waggons was 
difficult or impossible, because there was no means of 
communication, and because the darkness and the dirt 
made any attempt to remove the caked and blood- 
befouled field-dressing a danger. Better it was to risk 
the blood-poisoning already developing in these wounds 
than to open the way to the dust and straw chopping 
which abounded on every side. 

What journeys, what agonies these wounded men 
suffered in the days of the great Retreat ! Here in this 
waggon are ten patients, four of them lying on the straw 
and six standing up by the doorway. Two of the four 
lying cases have shattered bones, and the other two are 
victims of terrible flesh wounds caused by great jagged 
pieces of shrapnel, which have torn the muscles asunder 
and impregnated the tissues with the foul, manured soil 
of this highly cultivated land. The wounds have been 
dressed but once, upon the battle-field, by an overwrought 
army surgeon whose splendid heroism alone has saved 
him from collapse. He could not wash and cleanse the 
wounds as he would have liked to do, there were too 
many wounds to attend to, and there was too little time 
in which to deal with them ; the enemy pressed hotly 
upon our retiring ranks, and great shells rained down 
even upon this place of mercy. 

So the wounded men went to the train with a rough 
dressing to dam up the bleeding from their wounds and 
to hold within the wounds the seeds of poison and death. 
In a few hours, as they lay uneasily upon the dusty straw, 
the germs of blood-poisoning began their work, and the 


wounds throbbed with the inflammation which was 
developing in them. A fierce thirst began to consume 
the sufferers as their temperatures mounted higher and 
the skin in the neighbourhood of the lacerations became 
most exquisitely tender. Then the train drew up sharply 
upon the line and the waggons clashed together and 
bumped to a standstill. Every bump was like driving a 
knife into the open wounds, and the men cried out in 
their agony for mercy, or bit their lips and caught their 
breaths so that the blood ebbed away from their cheeks 
and they fainted under the scourge of the pain. 

The train lingered upon its journey because there were 
other trains in front of it, and because the railway system 
was disorganised. If the train had consisted of real 
hospital cars, that would have been the doctor s oppor 
tunity to move along the corridor and put fresh clean 
dressings on those inflamed wounds, or to wash them 
in some cleansing solution. But no doctor could come 
now, and so in darkness and stifling heat these gallant 
fellows writhed upon the straw praying, many of them, 
for death that they might achieve release from their 

Prolong this agony three, four, even five and six days 
and you will be able to measure the sum of it. And with 
the damp the state of many of the wounds grew worse, 
till at last gangrene in many cases set in and lock-jaw in 
a few. Realise that food and drink were often difficult 
to obtain in the case of men dangerously wounded, lying 
upon the straw. Count the number of the jolts and jars 
in a journey of one hundred miles occupying over two 
days. . . . The tale of suffering is terrible beyond words, 
so that your heart fails at thought of it. You begin to 
see all Europe as a torture chamber thronged with 


victims, and the sound of their anguish goes up day and 
night to a mute heaven. . . . Also, though you do not 
blame, you are filled with wonder that some other means 
of handling the wounded was not devised beforehand. 
What has been done since those days might have been 
accomplished surely a little earlier. Had England for 
gotten the figure of the Lady with the Lamp, or the 
fact that in South Africa, towards the close, luxurious 
hospital trains brought the wounded down country to 
Cape Town ? Did the organisers who sent out an army 
of 70,000 men with, for the most part, horse ambulances, 
imagine that that preparation would suffice against the 
greatest military power on earth ? At that very hour 
England was stretching out eager hands to help and great 
physicians and surgeons had already offered their services 
to their country. There were a thousand problems to 
solve, the solution of which might have been carried out 
on an earlier day ; there was a whole system to be 
built up, the building of which might have been begun 
in the days of peace. 

These are strong words : they are true. The scenes 
of suffering I witnessed at Rouen and Havre, and a 
hundred places on the line, will remain with me as a 
terrible recollection the more terrible that those workers 
who were on the spot laboured with entire devotion and 
unselfishness to mitigate the suffering around them. But 
they were too few and too ill-equipped to render effective 
service. This stream of wounded had falsified all ex 
pectations ; where tens had been looked for, thousands 
had been encountered. 

One may feel that the problems of a European war 
could not have been anticipated. That is true no 
doubt to some slight extent. Gangrene and lock-jaw 


were enemies that could not perhaps have been pro 
vided against. But even the Ulster Volunteers had 
supplied themselves with motor ambulances, and a 
hospital train might, one would have supposed, have 
been included in the equipment of the Expeditionary 

At Rouen there were hospital ships moored to the 
quays ships from the Fishguard route with long yellow 
funnels and hulls painted white and marked with huge 
red crosses. There were more of these ships in the 
outer basin at Havre, and they brought the trains down 
to the dock wall and unloaded them directly into the 
steamers. There was infinite pathos in the spectacle of 
these boats decks crowded with the lightly wounded men. 
In the good sunlight a little of the joy of life had come 
back again, but that little only served to accentuate the 
look of wistfulness on almost every face. These men 
were going back to England and safety, but the awful 
memory of the bloody days they had lived through 
haunted them. They were not . . . they would never 
be again in all the world, the light-hearted lads who 
swung ashore only ten days earlier upon the soil of France. 
Age and care and sorrow were come upon them and the 
shadow of death had fallen upon every one. War was 
no longer a game : it had become a fiery trial. Some of 
these men would come back, but their return would be 
with bitterness, and with the deep anger of those who 
have a wrong kindled within their hearts. The spirit of 
the Frenchmen who fought in 1870 was entered already 
into their comrades in arms ! 

All day and all night the trains rolled down to the sea 
and at all hours the white ships with the blood-red crosses 
upon their plates went out upon the tide to England, 





S 3 

O 3 

pQ W 

H S 



W c 




Havre was the base now since Boulogne had been aban 
doned. But already the abandonment of Havre was in 
contemplation. The broad digue and the great boule 
vard were emptying with the flying hours, and the little 
boats that ply across the Seine to Trouville went out full 
of passengers rich French people and their children 
whom they had brought in the July days to make holiday 
upon the shore. 

Above the town upon the hill there were great camps 
as there had been in Boulogne. From the hill you might 
look out, across the long fields of the sea stretching to the 
horizon, or again you might behold the broad bosom 
of the river and see its first windings away inland, where 
it sweeps round into its proper estuary. You might also 
see the fleet that lay at anchor beyond the harbour 
mouth the great transports which came so silently to 
Boulogne and slipped away again so silently when the 
danger fell upon the town. 

Below you the town ; and the noise and jangle of its 
streets rise up in cheerful monotony. You watch the 
long trains creeping in and out of the station like huge 
black caterpillars, and the motor-waggons lurching 
drunkenly along the roads and the street cars and the 
dense mass of the people in the central boulevard where 
the cafes are. Also you see the forest of masts and spars 
that indicates the docks and the shipping. . . . For 
Havre is the greatest of all the ports of France. 

In the town the uneasiness grows more profound from 
hour to hour. Such news as has come down from the 
battle-field is bad news. The enemy advance on Paris 
continues, and the Government has fled from the city. 
The population of Paris is fleeing by every road to the 
southward, to Chartres and Orleans and Bordeaux. The 


line between Paris and Rouen has been cut and the great 
viaduct at Pontoise on the Dieppe line has been blown 
up. " It is needful to have courage . . . but the worst 
. . . the worst may be expected." 

And to confirm this evil report you see again the 
British ships drawing into the harbour to load up the 
goods and supplies which have already been disembarked. 
Havre, like Boulogne, is doomed to evacuation. You see 
the forage waggons rolling swiftly to the docks and the 
men from the camps marching off, company by com 
pany in the same direction men who have never fired 
a shot in war, but who must go up to the fighting front 
by some other way than this one. 

Yesterday your hotel was full of staff officers in red 
hats who talked merrily with you concerning the pros 
pects of the campaign of gallant boys and grizzled 
seniors vieing with one another in their eagerness to 
" see the show." To-day the tables are empty and the 
salle a manger strangely quiet, and the old lady in the 
caisse in the entrance hall has a furrowed brow and 
anxious, care-worn eyes. When you speak to her she 
asks you with pitiful eagerness, " Les nouvelles sont-ils 
bonnes ? " and you must try to reassure her as best you 
can. At night in the cafe you find yourself once more 
counting the hours until this new act of the drama of 
war will have been ended. 

Next day the tide of refugees flows into the town. 
But these are not the refugees of Brussels, nor yet of 
the roads and railways leading into Amiens. These 
refugees have boxes instead of bundles, and they came 
in first-class railway carriages and engage the best rooms 
at the best hotels, paying liberally, without care for all 
that they demand. 


Nor are they refugees at all in the strict sense of the 
term, for they are homeward bound and are fleeing only 
from the scenes of their pleasures. 

These are the American tourists who found them 
selves in Germany or Switzerland and France when the 
war cloud came, and who rushed to Paris, as is the instinct 
of Americans, in order to watch events from that safe 
vantage ground. But the day of the safety of Paris is 
ended. The army of the invader is already at the gates 
of the city : terrible visions of envelopment and siege 
have been conjured up : terrible visions of a fleeing 
population have been actually witnessed. There are 
dark days ahead for the gay city, perhaps starvation and 
punishment and death and so the pleasure seekers have 
taken great fright and have begun to flee away also, 
back to the seaboard where they may embark for their 
own country. 

A strange crowd they are and worth attention even in 
this hour. When you have recovered from the annoy 
ance caused by the fact that to every cabman who drives 
them they give 20 fr. as a fare, and to every porter who 
carries their luggage 5 fr. (which spoils both cabmen and 
porters for other people who are less generously-minded) 
you will find that they can be very interesting. They 
will talk to you as much as you wish, for they have two 
days to spend in Havre before La France, the great 
Transatlantic liner, sails from the port. They will tell 
you what they think of the war, and of the Germans who 
have made the war. 

" Paris is dead," one of them a woman told me, 
" but she is still beautiful. I mean the old Paris that we 
knew and loved and enjoyed. There is another Paris 
that we did not know a hard, strong Paris, with the 


face of a woman and the heart of a hero. That is what 
I mean when I say she is still beautiful she has the same 
face but her spirit is changed. . . ." 

We sat in the big cafe in the square near the main 
boulevard. There were French officers and English 
officers and Belgians dining around us. My companion 
waved her hand towards them. "They are all fine men," 
she said, " but of course we admire you most. You are 
so like us and in a way we are proud of you : we expect 
you to win, and we believe you will win. . . . You 
always do win in the end . . . somehow. The Dutch 
(Germans) ? . . . But they are dirty pigs." 

It is the last scene of this drama of the Retreat, because 
to-morrow the tide will turn and a new world be brought 
to birth. It is a strange scene because there is no pre 
cedent for it in all our history. As I can never forget 
the agony of Brussels or the eyes of the men who came 
back from Mons, so I can never forget this swift revela 
tion of brotherhood and kinship. 

The scene is the outer basin of the great harbour, 
and the time is evening . . . the moment when the 
sun goes down the steeps of the West towards a golden 
sea, and the sky is painted crimson and vermilion and 
saffron for his couching. A great battleship lies in the 
harbour, her four funnels painted a dull slate-grey with 
white bands on them. The " Stars and Stripes of 
the United States float lazily at her stern. 

She is the American cruiser Tennessee, which has been 
sent to watch over the safety of the fleeing American 

Suddenly on the quiet air is borne the sound of a 
British cheer that strong, big, deep sound which grips 
the heart and sends a thrill tingling along every nerve. 


The cheer is repeated and is drowned by a shriller cheer 
ing. The dock gates at the top of the basin are swung 
slowly open and there emerges one of the huge British 
transports, its decks thronged with soldiers in khaki. 

The transport swings down where the Tennessee lies 
moored, and as she passes on her way dips her flag to 
the " Stars and Stripes " the " Stars and Stripes are 
dipped also in a profound silence as when two strong 
friends look into each other s eyes and shake one another by 
the hand in an hour of crisis. Then, softly at first, but 
growing strong and loud, there rises from the decks of 
the British ship that grand old sea chant of Britain that 
has cheered her warriors in many a day of ill-fortune : 

u When Britain first, at heaven s command, 
Arose from out the azure main, 
This was the charter of the land, 
And guardian angels sang this strain." 

The American sailors on the Tennessee crowd to the 
rails and wave their hats and then, as it were, impelled 
by an irresistible impulse, take up the rolling chorus, 
flinging it far across the sunny waters : 

" Rule, Britannia, Britannia rules the waves : 
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves." 


IT is possible that in years to come men will look back 
upon the Battle of the Marne and say of it that it 
was the greatest battle in European history. The Battle 
of the Marne decided the fate of Paris in 1914, but that 
was perhaps one of the least things which it decided. It 
decided also the fate of the British and French armies 
engaged outside of Paris, the armies which had come 
down from Mons and Namur in great retreat ; it decided 
therefore the resistance in the West ; it decided the 
result of the great German smashing blow that was to 
paralyse Western resistance and end the war in a few 
months ; it made a winter campaign inevitable, or almost 
inevitable ; it postponed the day of the attack upon Russia 
many months, and gave that nation time to gather together 
her resources for advance into the enemy s territory. 

The Marne, too, taught Europe a lesson : it revealed 
the fact that with all her preparation, all her organisa 
tion, all her equipment Germany was not invincible, 
that her power lay chiefly in her mechanical engines of 
war, and that, man for man, she was an inferior people. 
It put new spirit into the allied nations, cemented the 
alliance and gave, like an early glimmer of dawn, the 
promise of victory in full sunshine. 

Losing the Marne, the Entente would have lost Paris 
and all that Paris portends in equipment and in strength. 



It would have lost the whole of the North of France, and 
perhaps the whole of France as well. It would have lost 
a great army and a great treasure. It might have lost 
hope even and so have fallen before the fury of the 
conquering Germans. 

The Battle of the Marne, at least the Western portion 
of it, is one of the simplest battles that ever was fought. 
You have only to think of a pair of scissors in order to 
understand it. The pivot of the blades of the scissors 
is the town of Meaux, just outside Paris to the north-east. 
Meaux stands on the River Marne somewhat to the west 
of a point where the River Ourcq flows into it. The 
Marne comes from the east to Meaux, but at Meaux 
it turns southwards to flow down into the Seine at Paris. 
So at Meaux the river makes a bend like an elbow, with 
the point of the elbow directed to the north-east. The 
Ourcq River at first runs parallel to the Marne to the 
north of it, and then also makes an elbow turn to the south 
and runs due south to flow into the Marne. 

The Germans wheeled down over the Marne, leaving 
Paris on their right, in order to attack the Allied Army, 
which lay to the east of Paris, and which is represented 
by the lower blade of the scissors. At that moment the 
scissors had no upper blade at all. But when the enemy 
had come down far enough General Joffre supplied the 
upper blade from his reserves in Paris. . . . And the 
scissors were shut ! 

That, in the fewest possible words, is the story of the 
battle. But there are two points that must be made 
quite clear, because so much discussion has taken place 
in reference to them. The first of these is the reason 
why the Germans moved to the eastward to meet the 
Allied Army and did not advance directly upon Paris. 


That question has troubled many people, and continues 
to trouble them. I have heard it discussed all over the 
Western front by people of all types, from Russians to 
British journalists. The usual way of discussing it is to 
ask mysteriously what secret reason impelled the enemy 
to relinquish the prize, Paris, which he held in his hand 
and then mysteriously to hint at knowledge. " The 

3. The Battle of the Marne. 

The lower blade of the scissors represents the position of the 

Allies at the beginning of the battle. At this time the upper 

blade did not exist. It had still to be supplied. 

Crown Prince failed to join his army to the army of 
von Kluck, and von Kluck had to swing to the east to 
get in contact with him." " The Germans felt it would 
be easier to surprise the city by an attack from the east 
than from the north," and so on. 

Now this mystery is manifestly absurd when the true 
reason is so abundantly obvious. The true reason why 
the Germans swung to the east away from Paris was that 


in that direction lay the unbroken army of the enemy. 
The retreat from Mons had not been a rout ; the French 
Army was still an army and capable of fighting. The 
French Army had to be fought before the spoils of vic 
tory could be obtained, just as you must catch your hare 
before you cook it. 

To attack Paris while an unbeaten army lay in wait 
close at hand would have been madness : no sane general 
would even consider such an idea. If the Germans had 
done that they would have written themselves down not 
as victors but as imbeciles. On the other hand, the defeat 
of the Allied Army meant the immediate fall of Paris. 
This is clear the moment it is realised that the siege of a 
great city is a vast undertaking requiring absolute and 
unhampered freedom of action. It is a great under 
taking no matter how feeble, relatively, the defence may 
be. The whole object of the enemy was to crush his 
opponent s army, not to leave it to recover itself and to 
attack him while he knocked down houses or made 
breaches in defence works. 

The second point is a much more difficult one, for it 
concerns the strategy of the battle. Now there are two 
great features in the strategy of the Battle of the Marne 
that must never be lost sight of. The one feature is 
the mistake which von Kluck made in supposing that the 
British Army was too demoralised to fight, and the 
other feature is the "taxicab army," or upper blade of 
Joffre s scissors. 

Von Kluck had driven the British Army 100 miles 
from Mons to the gates of Paris. He had about 10,000 
prisoners, wounded and unwounded. He had seen the 
khaki coats melting away in front of him night after 
night as soon as the darkness fell. He assumed that at 


the end of 100 miles the spirit would be out of these 
men and that they would no longer be able to do anything 
against him. 

The British Army had held the left wing or left end 
of the Allied line all the bitter way from Mons. The 
British Army came down over the rivers to the Grand 
Morin (Forest of Crecy) on the left of the line. Von 
Kluck simply ignored it. His extreme right lay on Senlis, 
north of Paris. He marched his right across the British 
front so as to bring it along the Ourcq River. He thus 
converted a straight line into a line representing the letter 
V (as shown in the accompanying diagrams). Now it is 

4. I. Von Kluck s position before he 
marched to the Marne. 

II. How von Kluck exposed 
his flank on the Ourcq. 

clear that the upper leg of that letter V the leg along 
the Ourcq River was vital to the success of the lower leg. 
Break the upper leg and the lower must flee back or be 
cut off. 

So long as the enemy in front of you is demoralised 
and has no reserves that upper leg of the V is safe. If 
he is not demoralised, if on the contrary he is full of 
eagerness and has reserves ready to throw upon your 
flank, you are in deadly danger. 

Von Kluck miscalculated ; and when von Kluck per 
formed that wheeling movement he put his army in 
great peril for the sake of driving down quickly upon 


the Allies and forcing a decision. (Because to have 
advanced the whole line would have meant the bringing 
of the right wing within range of the guns of Paris. 
The whole line had either to stand still and wait for 
an enemy counter offensive or rush on with a rolled-in 

It was this upper leg of the V which rendered the upper 
blade of the scissors of General Joffre a possibility. The 


5. The upper blade of the scissors. 

only question was from what quarter was this upper 
blade to come, seeing that the Allied Army had already 
retreated far to the south and represented already the 
lower blade. 

The answer to this question lay in Paris and the fact 
that the answer existed made von Kluck s mistake in 
exposing his right flank absolutely fatal. The answer to 
the question can be expressed tersely as half a million of 
fresh French troops. 


So the battle began with a little gentle pressure by 
the lower blade of the scissors and a fierce and sudden 
thrust by the upper blade, the very existence of which 
had scarcely been suspected. The half-million men who 
were the force driving that " upper blade reached the 
battle-field surely in the strangest manner that ever yet 
an army had come to a great movement. They came, 
these reserves, in the Paris taxicabs and motor-cars which 
had been gathered together in readiness for the pur 
pose. And that is why they still speak of the " taxicab 

The taxicab army, the 6th French Army, decided the 
Battle of the Marne, because it was there when wanted, 
and because it was not expected to be there so soon. 
It was the upper blade of the scissors which had seemed 
to von Kluck to be a-wanting, but which Joffre had 
held in reserve during all those long days. In order that 
that upper blade might be used it was essential to fall 
back right down to the walls of Paris, because it was 
essential that the Paris fortifications should cause the 
enemy to roll up his flank and make the V formation. 
The prescience and sagacity of Joffre won their splendid 
and well-deserved reward. 

And that thrust of the upper blade of the scissors, how 
quickly it set the German Army fleeing back in order 
that its communications might not be endangered. At 
the very first sign of the " taxicab army " the German 
staff began to tremble. A little more, they saw, and the 
army which was fighting away to the east and south 
would be cut off. Only by flight could safety be secured. 
The German Army must at all costs be got out from the 
radius of the scissor blades. 

And so in the space of a fortnight history repeated 


itself. The Allied Army retreated from Mons to 
save its right flank from being surrounded from the 
east : the German Army retreated from the Marne to 
save its right flank from being surrounded from the 

The Germans came to the Marne and to the scissors 
of General Joffre flushed with the good wine of success. 
Everything had seemed to fall before them, and the 
splendour of this new achievement justified the wildest 
hopes. Compared to this progress 1870 was a mere 
snail s crawl. Within ten days of reaching Brussels they 
were at the walls of Paris, and could even see, far off, the 
spires of the coveted city and the outline of the Eiffel 

The German horsemen, the Uhlans, rode ahead of the 
army and found it in their hearts to be gay at the prospect 
of easy victory which opened before them. In the 
villages they even behaved well on occasion, toasting the 
new citizens of the German Empire, whom they declared 
they saw around them in the shape of a sullen and terrified 
peasantry. At Chantilly, the Newmarket of France, they 
behaved so well that an English jockey who stayed out 
the visitation gave them a good character when I saw 
him a few days later. 

" They behaved," he declared, " like gentlemen. 
When they rode into the town and I heard their horses 
in the street I thought they were some of our own people, 
or the French, and so I went out to look at them. Then 
I saw who they were. But they didn t molest me. They 
rode to the mayor s house and told him to keep order 
and no harm would be done. Then they came to my 
stable and asked for a horse. I had no horses except a 
two-year-old, and I told them it was not strong enough 


to do cavalry work. They were quite polite about it, 
but they said they must have the horse as one of their 
own had been wounded in the nose. So they took my 
horse and left the wounded one behind to die. 3 

The tobacconists in Chant illy, however, had another 
tale to tell, because the Germans helped themselves in 
the tobacconists shops, and what they left behind was 
scarcely worth carrying away. They looted some of the 
chateaux too, and made the palace by the river their 
head-quarters, bivouacking in the beautiful grounds. 
Visitors who go to Chantilly race-course in after years 
will perhaps be told that it was here that the vanguard 
of the victorious host lay on the nights before the great 
defeat. As a matter of fact, however, Chantilly was 
taken only by a company or two of Uhlans. The main 
army turned aside before it reached Chantilly. 

From Chantilly the road falls downwards to a delicious 
vale and passes under old trees that cast long shadows. 
Then the road rises again and mounts a hill, and from 
the hill-top you can see the little village of Senlis, with 
its cathedral, sleeping in the afternoon sun. But to-day 
Senlis is stirred fearfully in its sleep, and the streets are 
empty and the windows barred and bolted against the 
terror that walks abroad. Senlis has heard the dull boom 
of the guns through long hours and the news of the 
approaching avalanche has reached the quiet streets. 
The French and British who were in the town have 
fallen back, and very many of the inhabitants have fled 
away to join the host of the refugees pouring out through 
Paris to the southward. 

Outside of the town, on the hill, a party of French 
chasseurs are hidden in a little wood. They are only 
a little company but they are fulfilling their duty, the 


duty of harassing the advance of the foe. Presently as 
they wait they can hear hard hoofs on the dry road, and 
presently they see a small company of the hated Uhlans 
riding merrily towards them. 

The Uhlans are going to Senlis to join in the debauchery 
soon to take place in that town. They ride easily, talking 
and laughing as they go. Suddenly a sharp word of 
command is heard ringing out among the trees of the 
wood. Blue-clad figures superbly mounted dash out 
upon the confounded troopers. With a yell of bitter 
execration the Frenchmen hurl themselves upon these 
despoilers and profaners of France. Bright swords, 
thirsty for blood, gleam in the sunlight. The Germans 
reel back, wildly attempting to control their startled 
horses. The good blades leap to their task, plunging 
through the bodies of the foe. Saddle after saddle is 
emptied ; man after man rolls in his death agony upon 
the white country road, beneath the trees and under the 
great sky that is the benediction of all men. Then the 
enemy breaks and flees, dashing away down the hill for 
his life, with the French chasseurs pursuing after him. 

They buried the dead men by the roadside, but for 
some days the horses were left unburied. In the sun 
their bodies swelled up terribly and became gross and 
hideous. Clouds of flies gathered upon them and the 
taint of their decay spoiled the fresh wind. So it was 
over all this sweet land of France where the foul hands 
of war were laid upon men s life and upon the good 
fields death and pollution and the dreadful stench of 
decomposition like a blasphemy carried upon all winds. 

Senlis awaited the Germans in resentful mood, for 
already the little town had tasted the gall of their fierce 
methods. One of the armoured motor-cars which ran 


out of Amiens had come to the town. A sentry who 
ventured to challenge it had been shot down at his post. 
The car had rushed through the long village street to 
the accompaniment of the revolver shots of its occupants. 
And men who witnessed that outrage swore a solemn 
and bitter vengeance. 

They had not long to wait for it. The enemy came to 
the town a few days later in some force. That was the 
fifth of September, one of the splendid days of that 
glorious autumn. As usual they betook themselves to 
the house of the mayor and issued their threat. " Let 
a shot be fired and we raze the place to the ground." 
They selected the mayor and some of the citizens as 

But the bitterness of the people overcame their fear 
and their discretion. The bullies swaggered through 
the streets and molested the people. The houses, all 
houses, were open to them ; and a man s honour was as 
nothing. Wives were sorely afraid, and with good 
reason, in those days, and men s hearts quailed as they 
waited, suffering all things, for the sake of their beloved. 

But there was one man at least who could not brook 
this insolence a tobacconist in a by-street whose goods 
had been commandeered by the conquerors. One day 
in fierce exasperation he broke out upon the German 
soldiery in his shop while they stood heaping insults upon 
him. " I serve men, not bullies," he declared. And he 
followed up his words with action. He struck one of the 
bullies, throwing him out of the shop door. 

It was a brave act, but fatally indiscreet. The bully 
picked himself up from the gutter and began to bellow 
to his comrades to come to his assistance. Half a dozen 
soldiers hurried up and they dragged the wretched 


tobacconist out of his shop into the roadway. His wife 
saw them at their work and she rushed out of the shop 
and threw herself upon the men, begging them, as they 
were husbands and fathers, to forgive and show mercy. 

A German soldier show mercy ! 

Two shots rang out. Man and wife lay in their blood 
at the door of the tobacconist s shop. 

They heard the shots in the houses over the street, 
and heads appeared at the windows. Men gasped with 
the rage that consumed them. A few of the windows 
were thrown open that the dead faces, which were the 
faces of friends, might be the better seen. Then a shot 
was fired, it is said from the direction of one of the opened 
windows. A soldier fell, wounded (that is the German 
version of it !) A moment later all the windows in the 
street were shuttered and barred. 

But death awaited already without the shuttered 
windows. The infuriated soldiery marched at once to 
the house of the mayor, their hostage. They entered 
his house and seized him, telling him that the inhabitants 
had fired upon them that men had dared to defend 
their houses against the brute-beasts who came to defile 
them. They forced the mayor to go with them and 
they marched him at once to the military head-quarters 
on the hill, where he was imprisoned for the night. 

Next day they tried the Mayor of Senlis by court- 
martial and found him guilty. They marched him out 
from the court to the place of execution. They shot 
him there and he died fearlessly before them, a brave 
Frenchman, a very gallant gentleman, whose name will 
be held in honour by all righteous men when the names 
of his murderers are forgotten as obscene things are 


But the bloody repast was only just spread. There 
was still the sacking of Senlis to be carried out for a 
memorial. Great guns were turned upon the town and 
huge shells crashed into it. House after house fell in 
ruins upon terrified inmates. Women and children died 
horribly in the street. Those who had cellars crowded 
down in them waiting for death, others ran in the ways 
of the town, knowing not where they went if only they 
might escape from the agony of their fears. A prosperous 
place became a desert wilderness. The railway station 
fell in utter ruin ; a great mansion house was battered 
to destruction ; the humble dwellings of poor people 
were razed to the street ; even the church suffered, and 
there are shell marks upon its beautiful tower at this 
moment. The murderers came to the town to complete 
the work of their guns. A little boy pointed a wooden 
gun at them. They shot him. Men and women were 
the fuel for the flames of their blood-lust. Senlis the 
beautiful became a place of carnage and death ; the 
moon rose upon it and it lay under the moon naked and 
ravished. A great silence fell upon its pleasant ways. 

I heard these things myself in Senlis in the same week 
that the Germans were driven forth from the town. 

And Senlis is but one little town : there were hundreds 
of other towns to which the same damnation was meted 
out. Nothing, no one was sacred. In Senlis they stabled 
their horses in a church, leaving the befouled straw upon 
the floor and even up against the altar steps for a proof. 
I saw it there. In other places they left the like memorials. 
And they smote Rheims and mutilated it, the city of a 
hundred kings. 


SO the Germans came to their undoing at the Marne 
river. At the Marne river they had planned for 
themselves the greatest success of all, which was to afford 
a " decision by cutting the Allied Army in two some 
where to the east of Paris. One half of the army was to 
be driven in confusion into the city, the other half was 
to be surrounded and destroyed in the open. 

The scene of this battle is almost an island if you con 
sider that the Marne river flows half round it to the 
north and that the Seine performs a similar function to 
the south. The land between the rivers is cut across by 
two smaller rivers, the Petit Morin and the Grand Morin, 
which run from east to west and flow into the Marne. 
Between the rivers is higher ground covered with woods, 
then glorious in their early autumn foliage. And near 
the Marne river, to the eastward, are the marshes of 
St. Gond, around which Napoleon fought his last battles 
upon French soil in 1814. 

The Germans came down across the rivers. They 
crossed the Marne at a dozen different places because, 
though the bridges had been destroyed by the retiring 
army, there was little or no opposition. They crossed 
the Petit Morin, they crossed the Grand Morin. They 
came to Provins and Sezanne. And at Provins they found 

3 1 


the French and British drawn up and ready to give 
battle. That was September 5th, a Saturday. 

I was behind the lines, to the south of Provins. I had 
come up from Havre by a long way, through Trou- 
ville the gay, and Orleans the ever serious. Days and 
nights I had travelled without intermission, happy if I 
succeeded in accomplishing twenty miles within the 
twenty- four hours. For all the railways of France were 
disorganised, and the trains stood during hours upon 
the line waiting until some chance made it possible 
to go on. 

How changed was Trouville in these days ! A strange 
silence hung over the great watering-place : the broad 
sands were empty, the booths along the sands where in 
other days they sold you post cards and iced drinks and 
cigarettes stood solitary and dismal. A few nursemaids 
with children passed in melancholy procession along the 
beach, but even the children seemed to feel the atmos 
phere of oppression. The Casino, like all the other 
casinos of France, had become a hospital. You could 
see the black faces of wounded Turcos grinning over the 
balustrade, or the weary features of soldier men from 
the far-flung line between Paris and Belfort. These 
wounded men were too shortly separated from their 
ordeal to have recovered their spirit, and they were 
melancholy also as the beach and the sea and town itself 
were melancholy. 

At night from the beach you could see the lights of 
the great ships lying off Havre across the estuary of the 
Seine, and you could see the lights of the town itself, 
and the lights of the few camps which remained above 
the town on the high cliffs. But Trouville was dark and 
lonely ; once again the little fishing village of old times j 


and the gay world of its heyday had been blotted out as 
if it had never been. 

I came from Trouville to Mantes and then to Chartres 
and Orleans. All along the railway line you saw the 
black hands of war laid upon men s lives. You saw great 
troop trains stopped at the stations, the men bivouacked 
on the platforms eating their rations gaily enough and 
talking hopefully of the future. But their officers had 
grave faces, and they talked little, even among themselves. 
For these French officers saw visions of another catas 
trophe for France, and the old anxiety of 1870 gnawed 
at their hearts. Evil reports of the great retreat had 
already come to them, and they knew that already the 
French Government had been moved to the south. 
The German avalanche seemed to have swept all oppo 
sition before it. 

There is no finer man and no finer soldier than the 
French officer. He is brave as a lion and kindly as a 
mother towards his men. But the great shadow of 70 
lay upon France ; it lay upon the hearts of all Frenchmen. 
No Frenchman could shake it off, try as he would. The 
superstition of Prussian invincibleness was a dread 
superstition : even in their strongest hours it went with 
these men, haunting them. 

So the French officers smiled sadly often when you 
spoke with them, and sometimes they shook their heads. 
" If France must die," one of them said to me, " at least 
she will die with the sword in her hand. We will die, all of 
us with France. 3 Others were more hopeful, and a 
few had good hopes, for they said General Joffre played 
with his enemy and had led him thus swiftly into the 
heart of France that he might punish him the more 


At the stations too you saw men and women who had 
left their homes, waiting with the dull patience of country 
folk for the trains that should take them to places of 
safety. Sometimes one of these refugee trains would 
go past, and you might see with how great courage the 
common people of France faced their tribulation. How 
they found it in their hearts to smile even at their ill 
fate, and how their chief care was not for themselves 
but for the children or old people they took with them, 
and also for the gallant soldiers they saw at the stations 
as they went by. 

" Nos vaillants soldats," they cried, and waved their 
hands, and scattered flowers they had gathered by the 
side of the line when the train stopped. 

How many flowers were cast upon these troop trains 
of France and upon the men who thronged the carriages 
and leaned out to wave an revoir to the villagers at the 
halting-places ! You saw great laurel wreaths hung on 
the brass handles of the carriage doors, and wreaths of 
chrysanthemums and roses. There were festoons of 
roses around the windows of some of the compartments, 
and long chains of them binding the carriages together ; 
and the engines had whole bushes of flowering shrubs 
tied to them for good fortune. Also the doors and 
windows of the carriages bore significant inscriptions : 
"To Berlin." "The Kaiser is an old pig." "Re 
vanche." " Remember 1870." " Remember Alsace- 

" To Berlin," shouted the soldiers in the carriage 
doorways as the long trains how long those trains were ! 
crept away from the station. " To Berlin and a safe 
return," responded the people gathered on the platform. 
The train became a speck upon the plain, the people in 


the station resumed their vigil. The autumn leaves fell, 
one by one, and were blown across the concrete pave 
ment with a short crackling sound until they dropped 
on the railway line. The old priest, sitting under the 
shelter, continued his prayers. 

I came to Orleans late at night, after so many stop 
pages that I lost count of them. The great station when 
I reached it presented a strange sight. It was no longer 
chiefly a station ; it had become an asylum for the home 
less. The broad area of platform between the lines and 
the exit was converted into a huge dormitory, where lay 
all manner of men under the dim light of the electric 
arcs. They slept so soundly these tired men that nothing 
disturbed them. The arrival or the going of trains passed 
unheard ; the marching of troops, even the roll of heavy 
wheels as supplies were dragged through the station. 

Some of them slept upon the bare flags ; others had 
mattresses, supplied I know not by whom; others had 
taken off their coats and rolled them tightly to serve as 
pillows. A few slept upon the bar of the cloak-room, 
and their legs dangled from the bar like the necks of 
fowls in a poulterer s window. Another bar where lug 
gage is checked was similarly adorned. 

They were of all types those people, from the well- 
dressed merchant and professional man to the farm 
labourer. But they slept cosily side by side in the strange 
brotherhood of adversity. Even the hard stone could 
not break their slumber, though you might see them 
rolling painfully upon it if you watched. A station 
official stood guard over them like a shepherd watching 
his sleeping flock, and sometimes as he watched you could 
see him smile to himself at the strangeness and incon 
gruity of the spectacle. 


Outside the station, in the streets, there seemed to be 
no sign of life at all. The streets were empty except 
for an occasional gendarme and a few people carrying 
baggage who were searching for lodgings. If you asked 
them they told you that lodgings were difficult, if not 
impossible, to find in Orleans on this night because 
Orleans is on the direct route between Paris and Bor 
deaux, and half the fleeing population of the capital had 
broken its journey here to await developments. 

And soon enough you discovered for yourself that 
these travellers spoke the truth. Half of the hotels had 
a written notice attached to the bell handle : " It is 
useless to ring, we have no room. 3 The other hotels 
which had neglected to post up any notice were be 
sieged and soon learned of their folly. When you rang 
a head appeared at an upstairs window and you heard 
the phrase again and again, " II n y a plus." In every 
street of the city it was the same phrase you heard, until 
the sound of it became menacing and terrible. 

So when I could not obtain lodgings I walked the 
streets instead and saw how the war had come to this 
sweet old city and transformed it in a few hours into a 
vast hostel for well-to-do refugees. I wandered first 
into the great square where Jeanne d Arc, the Maid of 
Orleans, on her great charger holds aloft the Standard 
of France and of honour. The huge statue rose up black 
and gaunt in the moonlight, but the moon fell graciously 
upon it, nevertheless, as though granting benediction to 
this memorial of the splendid courage and hope which 
are the heritage of the French people. I drew near to 
the statue and marked the wreaths which devoted hands 
had hung upon the plinth in this new hour of France s 
calamity. " Pour la patrie," they had written on one of 


the cards attached to the wreaths, and on another, " Ora 
pro nobis." 

Beneath the statue two women, in deep mourning, 
knelt praying for France and for the men who had gone 
out to sell their lives for her. 

The moon hung clear and steady above the great 
black horse and its girl rider with her brandished sword. 

On the other side of the town, by the edge of a wood, 
I found a great camp. These were French regiments 
which were encamped here, and the number of them 
seemed to be very great. There were rows upon rows 
of field kitchens with fires glowing and men busily at 
work around them. You might see huge ovens in which 
hundreds of loaves of bread were being baked, the bakers 
standing near by ready for the work of taking the loaves 
from the fire when the exact moment should arrive. 
In the moonlight the ovens glowed like lamps, red 
against the pure white, and the figures of the men had 
a strange, barbaric appearance. 

Near the ovens were tents with sentries posted, and 
you could hear the rattle of weapons as the sentries moved 
upon their beats and then presented arms. The tents 
seemed very white and very quiet. But the cattle penned 
near at hand were lowing now and then, and the horses 
too neighed occasionally, softly, as though enquiring what 
all this work was about. There seemed to be hundreds 
upon hundreds of horses tied up amongst the trees. 

While I waited a great convoy of motor waggons came 
to the camp and to the kitchens and was loaded up with 
bread. The convoy moved away as soon as it was loaded. 
Was this bread for the regiments stationed near at hand 
or was it food for the great armies engaged with the 
enemy away to the northward ? 


Paris had come to Orleans overnight so to speak, and 
Orleans was therefore a deeply interesting town. In 
Orleans you saw a chastened edition of the crowd which 
walks so gaily in the boulevards of a Sunday afternoon. 
It was the same crowd, but it did not look the same. It 
looked worn and anxious and mirthless. The women of 
the town too were here, rather draggled and rather 
hungry. . . . All eyes were upon Paris. 

When you sat in the cafes you heard what Paris had 
thought yesterday about the war and what no doubt 
Paris, as much of the city as remained there, was still 
thinking to-day. You heard that Paris had made up its 
mind to a siege a siege more terrible than the Siege of 
70. Paris had not, apparently, taken into account the 
fact that the French Army was still unbeaten, and that 
the army must be beaten before the city could be cap 
tured. True to her woman instinct, Paris saw herself 
the prize and discounted the chances of salvation. 

Yet how brave Paris was. These people had not been 
greatly afraid for themselves : most of them had left 
the city for the sake of children or old people who could 
not well bear a siege with its attendant horrors. They 
had left their all in a worldly sense, and few, if any of 
them, had hope of saving their goods from the ruins. 
Some were about to return to the city nevertheless to do 
what they could. They did not complain. The wonder 
ful, the glorious patriotism of the French people was 
aflame in their hearts. They no longer lived for them 
selves : they lived, they thought, they spoke, they acted 
only for France. 

That, you learned, was the mood of Paris in this hour 
of her suffering. Like a mother, she thought of her 
children ; she became, as she had always been in hours 


of crises, the spiritual embodiment of the whole land ; 
she became France, a microcosm of the nation ; a store 
house of all the national ideals ; a figure representative 
of all the national yearnings. Paris lived then in the heart 
of every Frenchman just as the heart of every French 
man had an abiding sanctuary within the walls of Paris. 

From Orleans I came to Malesherbes, a little town on 
the outskirts of the forest of Fontainebleau, and from 
Malesherbes right through the forest. What an experience 
that was upon the outskirts of the greatest battle of all 
time. It was again a clear night with a moon, so that you 
could see far into the forest ways, under the great trees, 
and could but dimly mark in the sky, like long pencils 
of silver, the searchlights over Paris. What memories 
crowded upon you: what thoughts. Here while you lived 
from moment to moment they were remaking the world. 
In all years to come men must look to this day, must 
speak of it as a crisis day in man s history, must wonder 
how the men who were privileged to see it lived through 
its breathless hours and what they did and what they 

Yet the forest preserved its ancient stillness when 
the fate of Europe literally trembled in the balance. 
" The forest of Fontainebleau, is it not the last refuge of 
lost causes," a Frenchman said bitterly to me on that 
night, and added : " You know, of course, that these 
trees witnessed the downfall and agony of Napoleon. 53 
I knew. But on this night, somehow, the sombre forest 
did not whisper of defeat and agony. There was a new 
consolation in its wide spaces and its great trees. That 
very day I had seen many troop trains go up towards 
the east full of the youth of this France, a youth blazing 
with enthusiasm and devotion. I had heard the singing 


of these young men as they went by, and their cheers and 
their laughter, and had caught the infection of the new 
courage which was surely come to France in her darkest 
hour. France again had dared to believe in herself, in 
her destiny ; the old spirit of her greatness was come 
upon her. 

And so the forest brought great comfort on this eve 
of battle and of fate, and you might view the astounding 
spectacle presented by the forest without apprehension. 
You might even find in the spectacle a new assurance of 

What a spectacle it was ! Into the forest of Fontaine- 
bleau had passed the whole population of one of the 
richest areas in France, the area between the rivers, from 
Eperney and Rheims in the north to Moret-sur-Sables 
and Troyes in the south, from the Aisne to the Marne 
and the Seine. They had fled before the vanguard of 
the foe, and amongst the ranks of the retreating armies 
of France and Britain. They had fled just as the Belgians 
and the inhabitants of Artois fled, in fear and haste, taking 
with them only the few necessaries they could carry over 
against the uncertainty and hardships of the future. 

Most of them though were small farmers with a team 
of oxen and a few head of cattle and sheep or goats, per 
haps with a horse or two and a cart to pack the house 
hold goods in. They drove the oxen before them, yoked 
together as for the plough, and they had their children 
on the carts with the old folk and the furniture and a 
coop or two of chickens. The sheep and the goats were 
tended by the boys of the family who, as boys will, 
viewed this pilgrimage as a great adventure and rejoiced 
in it. 

The pilgrimage came to the forest because the forest 


promised shelter. Here among the great trees there 
would be safety from the prowling Uhlans, and no army 
could deploy here, be the decision good or be it evil. 
Moreover, the dispossessed could await here in peace the 
news of the battle their eyes had seen in course of pre 
paration, and if the good God heard the prayers of 
France it would be possible to go back easily from this 
place to the homesteads they had left behind them. 

So they came to the forest and hid themselves in it, 
encamping in the darkest glades and gathering their small 
possessions around them after the fashion of nomads in 
the desert. 

The forest is bright with a thousand camp fires glow 
ing softly amongst the trees. Around the fires you may 
see the families gathered at their evening meal, like 
gipsies on the shores of some Highland loch. The faces 
are illuminated by the glow, and you may recognise the 
hard, honest faces of the French peasant class, the old 
women with their seamed cheeks and the young women 
beautiful in a rude, healthy fashion. The children are 
already asleep, wrapped in all manner of strange garments- 
They have been laid upon the soft sward of the forest, 
and the cool night winds are their lullaby. Further out, 
almost beyond the golden circle of the firelight, the 
cattle lie with raised heads, solemnly chewing the cud 
and now and then turning their great eyes towards the 
glowing embers as though in mute questionings. The 
sheep and goats browse quietly beside them. 

So has it ever been with mankind in the days of war. 
One hour and all the ways and means of civilisation are 
palsied ; one hour and the stark primitive emerges from 
the trappings of modern life. The great trees are the 
roofs of this people, and the heavens are a light to them. 


In the requiem of falling leaves they have their peace 
and their comfort. 

And all the forest waits for the morrow as they wait 
who attend a great decision. On the morrow it will be 
life or death : the dawn or the destruction of hope. In 
the vast stillness you may hear the boom, far away, of 
the guns which are now the arbiters of destiny ; you 
may see also, up above, the slim pencils of light which 
perpetually search the skies. You may catch now and 
then the deep red glow in the eastern sky which marks 
the scene of the conflict and which marks also the 
burning and pillaging of the hamlets and towns that 

have fallen into the hands of these terrible invaders. 

It is morning in the forest and the day of battle is 
come, the day they will speak of through all ages as the 
greatest day in the world s annals. The camp fires that 
grew cold overnight are lit again now, and the women 
folk are busy with their preparations for the morning s 
meal. Apart the men are standing together to talk of 
the future and to glean what comfort they can from an 
exchange of news. 

They know, these peasants, that great doings are afoot, 
but like the whole world, they are ignorant as yet con 
cerning the precise events that may be expected. They 
know that Joffre has turned and will make a stand here, 
beyond the eastern borders of the forest, against the 
German host. But they cannot envisage the nature of 
that stand, nor yet in what manner the battle will be 

And while they talk together the roar of the guns 
comes to them across the morning sunshine, telling that 
the dice are being rattled in the box for the throw. 


FROM Fontainebleau Forest to Moret is but a little 
way ; from Moret you cross the great bridge over 
the Seine and come to Montereau, and thence there is a 
short line of railway that runs close by the river towards 
Troyes. There is also a branch line going up to Provins 
and so to the edge of the Battle of the Marne. 

That was the course I followed, and it brought me 
nearer to the battle-field than I had any hope of being 
able to come. 

The day was warm and sunny, as had been all these 
days of the retreat through northern France. When the 
sun had been up an hour or two the atmosphere became 
hot almost to the point of suffocation. Northward of 
where I stood, a mile or two, heavy clouds, however, 
hung over the plain marking the place of battle. The 
sky in that quarter was dark and lowering, with strange 
veins of reddish gold running across it, as though some 
painter had tried with crude brush to improve a sombre 

Under the reddish gold of the sky the guns were 
booming the guns of the Marne, whose thunders will 
resound down all the ages so long as a man is left to tell 
of them. 

The first act in the battle was played upon the plain 



about the town of Provins. The Germans had reached 
this plain in their hasty advance to the south which was 
to split the Allied Army. Their advanced guards, the 
usual cavalry screen, had orders to push on at all costs 
and discover the positions of the enemy. The advanced 
guards found the enemy, the British, near the wood of 
Crecy on the Grand Morin, and there the battle was 

What a battle line it was upon that Sunday morning, 
September 6th von Kluck s Army on the west, von 
Buelow to the east of him by the marshes of St. Gond, 
von Hausen s Saxons east of von Buelow, and then 
farther to the east again the Duke of Wurtemberg and 
the Crown Prince and the Bavarian Crown Prince. And 
facing those armies the armies of Joffre with the British 

Here are the orders of the day as issued to the soldiers 
of the three nations by their Generals : 

" At the moment when a battle on which the welfare 
of the country depends is about to begin," wrote General 
Joffre, " I feel it my duty to remind you that it is no 
longer the time to look behind. We have but one business 
on hand to attack and repel the enemy. An army which 
can no longer advance will at all costs hold the ground it 
has won and allow itself to be slain where it stands rather 
than give way. This is no time for faltering, and it will 
not be suffered." 

General French wrote : 

" I call upon the British Army in France to show now 
to the enemy its power and to push on rigorously to the 
attack beside the 6th French Army. 

" I am sure I shall not call upon them in vain, but that, 
on the contrary, by another manifestation of the magni- 


ficent spirit which they have shown in the past fortnight 
they will fall on the enemy s flank with all their strength 
and in unison with their Allies drive him back." 

And thus spoke the German : 

" The object of our long and arduous marches has 
been achieved. . . . The great decision is undoubtedly 
at hand. To-morrow, therefore, the whole strength of 
the German Army, as well as that of all our Army Corps, 
is bound to be engaged along the whole line from Paris 
to Verdun. To save the welfare and honour of Germany 
I expect every officer and man, notwithstanding the hard 
and fierce fight of the last few days, to do his duty un 
swervingly and to the last breath. Everything depends 
on the result of to-morrow. 3 

And so the " Battle without a morrow was joined. 

The 6th French Army, the "taxicab" army, came up 
on that Sunday to the line of the Ourcq and began its 
struggles with the German outposts in the village to the 
west of the river. And the big guns of the enemy poured 
a storm of shells across the river back upon the heads of 
these devoted Frenchmen. 

Also the British force, away to the south behind the 
Grand Morin River, crept out of its cover in the woods 
and threw itself against the enemy lines near the place 
where they registered their most southerly progress. The 
coming of the British was like the coming of a thunder 
bolt among these German troops, for had not the Army 
of General French been destroyed at Mons and Lan- 
drecies and Le Cateau ? Von Kluck knew, in that hour, 
that he had erred greatly when he swung his flank round 
into the line of the Ourcq River. The scissors of General 
Joifre were completed, lower blade and upper blade, for 
the chastening of this foolishness. 


They bivouacked that night, the Germans on the 
eastern bank of the Ourcq and on the southern bank 
of the Grand Morin, the French and British in closest 
contact with them. And already the battle-field gave up 
its wounded to the ambulances and trains awaiting near 
at hand. The trains from the south of the line moved 
down towards Montereau, running slowly through the 
cool night with their grievous burden. 

At the wayside stations they stopped awhile, and you 
might speak with these gallant men and hear from their 
lips the first tales of the first day of the struggle. 

Strange tales they sounded from the lips of men who 
lay often grievously ill, panting upon the straw in the 
railway waggons. " The enemy were not far from us, 
with the river behind them (it is idle to ask what river, 
because these are men from the south and they do not 
know) ; " we charged across the open meadowland after 
our guns and their guns had been hammering at one 
another for a long time. How gay we were : what a 
spirit our men showed. (Quel elan !) You felt that 
France was irresistible in that moment, as though 
nothing in all the world could stop us. I have heard my 
father speak of the terrible depression of 70, and how 
the men had no heart or stomach for the fight. It was 
no longer like that. The men burned to attack : they 
could scarcely be held in restraint. Their faces were 
aglow and their eyes flamed." 

" When we had done shooting and came to close 
quarters the enemy broke and fled before us. Then 
you might hear terrible words shouted into the ears of 
these fleeing men Louvain and Tirlemont, as the 
bayonets drove home, and Remember Belgium. 

Others told in similar language the stories of detailed 


fighting upon other parts of the long line, how the 
enemy was surprised in his triumphant advance while 
yet he was overtired with rapid marching and while he 
had so far outstripped his big guns and his commis 
sariat as to be rendered an easier prey. They told how 
stubborn nevertheless, and how arrogant, had been his 
defiance, even after it became clear that he had been 
out-classed and out-manoeuvred. 

Some of these trains were a very sad spectacle even in 
the midst of this early glory of victory. And sometimes 
the chill hand of death was outstretched at these way 
side stations. 

I saw one poor fellow, wounded about the head, die 
in the arms of a village priest who had come to the station 
to meet the train and give what consolation he could 
to the sufferers. The man was quite young and he had 
still the expression of boyhood upon his face ; but his 
face was drawn and very pale, and his breath came in 
short, sharp gasps that were terrible to listen to. The 
good father prayed with him and, so far as was possible 
in that place, administered the last rites of the Church, 
while the other wounded men stood by with bared heads 
and sad faces. A woman, a nurse, in the little crowd on 
the platform wept softly while she went about her work, 
trying to make the dying boy s last moments comfort 
able. He died with joy in his face, and the priest told 
her that his last words were of France, his France for 
which he gave life and youth so cheerfully. When he 
was dead the priest covered his face and they took the 
body to a van at the end of the train that was used as a 
mortuary car. 

The French priests are noble fellows, and they re 
sponded nobly to the great call upon their services which 


these days made. Day and night they remained at their 
posts in the wayside stations, working with the nurses at 
the food stalls and helping to carry comforts and dressings 
to the wounded men. All might command their services, 
and there was no thought of self in their free giving. 
Many a dying man had his last hours made easy for him 
by the good old men, and many a youth who had cared 
little for the ministrations of the Church in the days of 
strength turned to the wayside priest with appealing eyes 
during these long nights under the September moon. 

The younger priesthood of France fought side by side 
in the trenches with their lay brethren, sharing all the 
hardships of the campaign and all its dangers with them, 
nor asking any preferential treatment ; the older men 
set the same great example in other spheres. So that 
even amongst this hell of death and destruction the peace 
of God might be whispered in dying ears and the emblem 
of Salvation exalted before eyes already grown dim with 
suffering the only end of which could be death. 

On Monday the seventh of September the battle was 
joined again with renewed fury from the Ourcq in the 
north to the Grand Morin in the south, and thence away 
eastward by Sezanne to the sources of the Petit Morin, 
the marshes of St. Gond, the Argonne forests, Verdun 
and the Vosges. On this day the pressure of the 6th 
French Army, the " taxicab 3 army, under General 
Maunoury, became more pronounced across the river 
Ourcq. This army was attacking the upper limb of the 
V which General von Kluck had created in defiance of 
the rules of cautious warfare. Von Kluck s flank, the 
upper limb of the V, rested upon the Ourcq river, and so 
long as it could prevent the 6th French Army from 
crossing was safe. But the 6th Army, the upper blade 


of the scissors, showed the most determined courage, and 
by nightfall had driven the enemy entirely from the 
western bank of the river and had begun to prepare for 
the crossing on the morrow. 

Meanwhile to the south the British were pushing 
northward, as a glance at the sketch will show. The 
position occupied by the British troops was of immense 
importance. The British attacked the German line just 
where it ceased to run north and south and began to 
sweep away to the east. They attacked thus between the 

R O 

6. The Battle of the Marne (second day). 

big effort on the Ourcq river and the still bigger forward 
thrust on the Grand Morin, towards the Seine. 

The Germans had meant to hold the Ourcq while 
they thrust down on the main French Army. This great 
thrusting movement was their big card, the card that was 
to win Paris. It will be seen that the British Army 
literally took that great thrust in flank its right 
flank and rendered it a dangerous instead of a safe 

So here was another miscalculation of General von 
Kluck. He had not realised that General JofTre could 
bring the " taxicab 3 army so quickly from Paris to the 


Ourcq, nor yet how strong and efficient the " taxicab " 
army was. Again, he had not realised that the " con 
temptible little army of General French was awaiting 
him, hid in the woods of Crecy by the Grand Morin 
River, upon the very pivot of the scissors. And he had 
refused to believe that the British Army had any fighting 
strength left. 

The British Army took the great southward thrust in 
flank ; it also, to some extent, threatened the left flank 

German Grea/" Thrust" 


7. How the British Army held the pivot of the scissors. 

of von Kluck s defence on the Ourcq. Von Kluck 
found himself suddenly, upon this Tuesday, fighting 
upon two fronts. He was well within the blades of the 
scissors of Joffre. And between the blades, as their pivot, 
stood the British Army. 

I stood not far from these great events and watched 
the first train-load of " unwounded prisoners " going back 
into the heart of the France they would have ravished 


had they been able. Grimy fellows they looked, with 
the heavy jowls and fat cheeks which one associates with 
the German of the cartoons and is continually surprised 
to see exemplified in the man himself. All the men wore 
the green field uniform which looked very drab and 
dirty now. Some of them were hungry and asked for 
food, saying that they had not tasted cooked meat for a 
week. Others declared quite frankly that they had lived 
on beetroot plucked from the fields through which they 
marched. The private soldiers were amiable enough now 
that they had fallen into the hands of the enemy : but 
the officers almost without exception seemed surly and 
defiant. They sat bolt upright in the carriages looking 
neither to right nor left, and they pulled down the blinds 
in the windows in the face of the open-mouthed crowds 
at the stations. 

I think I speak without prejudice difficult as that is 
to do in these days when I say that the aspect, the 
demeanour of these prisoners from the Battle of the 
Marne was distinctly repellent. They were weary, of 
course, with much fighting and with long marching, and 
their clothes were dirtied and dishevelled, and they had 
uncropped heads and moustaches and dirty faces but 
these externals can be discounted. It was not their 
dirt nor their misery which repelled one could perhaps 
sympathise a little with these misfortunes. It was the 
bearing of the men themselves. They reminded you of 
dogs who have just been beaten and who cringe to beg 
forgiveness : their smiles had an oily, ingratiating quality, 
such as you encounter in the smile of a professional 
beggar by the roadside. They did not hesitate to say 
that they were glad to be taken prisoner doubtless they 
were ! and that they had always disapproved of this 


war, but were forced to fight. There did not seem to be 
that sturdy and uncompromising anger in their faces 
which, to their credit, the officers wore almost to a 

You felt that the German people are indeed a nation 
of slaves, not after all very careful who shall be their 
master. You realised also that the German officer is a 
slave-master and a patrician, cold and hard and un 
bending and proud. I do not suggest, of course, that 
this impression is to be applied generally. Many of the 
German soldiers have proved themselves to be brave 
men in face of danger, and our own soldiers speak often 
in warm terms of the enemy s qualities. I give merely 
my own idea. Afterwards I saw other batches of prisoners 
who conformed more nearly to the standard of the 
officers without, however, showing the evil temper most 
of the officers displayed so conspicuously. 

A Frenchman to whom I expressed the views I have 
just set forth told me that his own impression coincided 
with mine. " Our fellows," he said, " compare well 
with these men, though we must make all allowances for 
conditions. I cannot see Frenchmen smiling from the 
train windows upon the crowds at wayside stations in 
Germany, though I suppose all nations have their share 
of weaklings. Captivity kills a Frenchman because it 
divorces him from France and lowers the pride that 
burns in all our breasts, the pride that is pride of France. 
Our psychology is so profoundly different from the 
psychology of these fellows. They belong to the race 
that has peopled the whole world with waiters and 
flunkeys. It is, after all, the flunkey s instinct to kiss the 
hand that beats him." 

It was from these long train-loads of prisoners that you 


gathered first of all the extent of this victory for no 
man of course in those days had seen or even known of a 
hundredth part of the great struggle. You realised that 
this was not only a reverse to the enemy, but that it was 
salvation to the Allied cause. You began to see a new 
dawn rising amid the darkness, over the stricken fields of 
death the dawn, very early but very sure, of a new era 
in the world, purchased by the blood of patriots and by 
the sorrow and pain of half the world. In those hours, 
when the first hopes of victory materialised, men and 
women held their breath in devotion and thankfulness 
to the good God who, once again, as in old time, had 
heard the prayers of France, had strengthened her arm, 
and had beamed his benediction upon the just cause of 
liberty and righteousness. 

On that second night of the battle there was indeed 
good hope in the Allied lines. The great decision was 
not yet, but the hour was at hand and the preparation 
for the hour had been well speeded. The army on the 
Ourcq rested that night upon the bank of the river facing 
the Germans, who still held the other bank, and they 
rested, knowing that good work had been accomplished. 
What fighting this upper blade of the scissors, this army 
that came by taxicab, had accomplished ! Men who 
fought in the battle to reach the Ourcq tell of the great 
shells that drove huge holes in the ground and sent up 
their black clouds of oily smoke to drift across the 
orchards and harvest fields ; they tell of the fearful 
explosives that seemed to rend the air and the ground, 
and that froze in death whole companies of men so that 
in death they seemed to be alive, sitting ready to the 
word of command ; and they tell of ravished villages 
blazing through the long night and haystacks aflame 


and farmhouses crashing to the ground with dreadful 
rattling sound. 

A sugar refinery, one story goes, was set on fire, and the 
Germans within it had to jump from the blazing windows 
under the fire of their foes. Away to the south too the 
pretty town of Meaux on the Marne, where that river 
turns to the southward, was lying almost in ruins, with 
the great shells lashing their hail of destruction upon its 
roofs and gardens. 

The green fields and the orchards near the river bank, 
where the fighting was fierce all day, are still at evening, 
but the orchards are strewn with dead, German dead 
and French dead lying side by side under the sky, their 
faces lit up by the far glow of the burning villages. 

What a scene truly of horror and wonder ! The long 
antennae of light " feeling the sky from the heart of 
Paris ; the solemn woods upon which the winds play 
mournfully as of old time ; the deep glow, reaching to 
the clouds, of the burning and blazing houses ; the voice 
of the guns not yet silenced in the darkness and the lurid 
flashes, red and green, where the shells are bursting fit 
fully over the opposing armies the long flares of light 
that sweep the whole sky to reveal to the silent watchers 
the enemy s movement that on this night of nights is 
the battle-field of the Ourcq. 

But the Ourcq is but the end of the long line. Mile 
upon mile, over the wooded river lands of the Marne 
and its tributaries, over the downs to the eastward of the 
broad rivers ; over the dreary plains of the Champagne- 
Pouilleuse ; over the dark forest-land of the Argonne, 
away to the heights of the Vosges the fires are burning 
and the flares making night vivid with their lightnings ; 
the guns are booming that are the menace of this fair 


land of France, and likewise the guns that are her com 
forters. Truly the battle of all battles this ; the struggle 
of giants not for a city only, nor a kingdom, but for all 
the ways and all the bounty of a world. 

But there is another light in the sky along the Ourcq 
Valley and on the plain above the Marne River : a fierce 
and sinister light which the eyes of men have not viewed 
before in this Western world of civilisation. It is the 
light of the German funeral pyres which they have 
builded to cremate their dead. By the glow of the burn 
ing villages they have gathered the dead and brought 
them together in piles, heaped up under the pure sky. 
Man upon man they are heaping them, youth upon 
youth, bodies that yesterday went forth with young 
life in them and to-day are offal upon the face of the 
earth. Great pyramids they build with these dead, 
that loom up dark and horrid in the night and already 
cast their taint upon the winds. Around the piles of 
dead they build wooden pyres and over them pour 
barrelfuls of paraffin and then cast straw upon them that 
the work lack nothing in its effectiveness. . . . And the 
strong fire leaps upon the dead men, curling about their 
faces and picking out for the last time beloved features 
which it seems to caress before devouring. 

O wives and mothers and little children, that they 
should perform this thing amid the orchard trees and 
under the stars ! 

On this night the British Army lay along the Grand 
Morin on both sides of that river. It had been a great 
day for our soldiers, this Monday, 7th of September, 
when they drove the foe before them as they had dreamed 
of driving him during the pitiful heat and moil of the 
Retreat. At 4 a.m., when the chill dawn woke over the 


tree-tops of the woods of Crecy, and the long eastern 
skies above the Champ agne-Pouilleuse were spread with 
the grey mantle of an autumn morning our camps were 
astir. The great guns roared their challenge then along 
all the vale of the Morin River and were answered by 
shrieking shells from the enemy guns which, bursting, 
filled the morning with their pollution. 

The guns spoke and were still, and then our infantry 
went forward as they had gone forward on the stricken 
fields of Mons and Le Cateau. They came from the 
woodland to the river, and rushing on with splendid 
courage, singing even in that chill dawn that presaged 
yet another scorching morn, they drove into the town of 
Coulommiers on the Grand Morin River. 

That was a fight to rank with the great stand at Lan- 
drecies. It was not only a fight of infantry but also of 
horsemen, the flower of our cavalry against the flower 
of the Germans, our forty-five squadrons against their 
seventy- two. The gth Lancers and the i8th Hussars 
won immortal laurels that day by the bridge over the 
Grand Morin at Coulommiers, over which the stubborn 
fire of our footmen had driven the enemy in confusion. 

The long line of the battle is spread out before the 
town of Coulommiers in the golden sunlight that seems 
to fall in showers upon the meadowlands. An incessant 
thunder fills all the valley and you can mark the fierce 
flame where the shrapnel bursts, lashing the ground with 
its venomous whips of fire, and the white clouds that 
betray the heavy shells. You can mark also the extended 
line of the infantry creeping forward from cover towards 
the river under the massed fire of the enemy on the 
north bank of the river. You can see the cavalry gathered 
in the woodland, restive horses and eager riders with 


the stray shafts of sunlight gleaming on bit and spur ; 
you may even hear the faint, delicious jingle of the 
bridle chains. And overhead, like a swarm of angry 
wasps buzzing, the aeroplanes of friend and foe search 
ing with keen eyes the positions of troops and signalling 
to the guns where to cast their fire. 

Tis a scene of wonder and fury amid the cool day- 
coming, but there are fiercer moments in store. There 
is the charge of the infantry over the bridge across the 
Grand Morin, and there is the combat of cavalry which 
shall decide the fate of the German stand and its undoing. 
There is the crossing of the river and the pursuit of the 
foe along all the roads and byways leading out of the 
town to the northward. 

In these late hours under the full sun our men may 
see the terrible work which our guns have wrought upon 
the enemy, whole batteries torn to pieces and everywhere 
the dead and the dying, broken bodies of men that lie 
in every attitude of pain and agony. 

It was this fight at Coulommiers on the Grand Morin 
that ended at point-blank range, so to speak, the main 
downward thrust of the German Army. The fight at 
Coulommiers turned the flank of that part of von Kluck s 
Army which was engaging the 6th French Army under 
General d Esperey, which we have chosen to call the 
lower blade of the scissors of Joffre. When the Germans 
retreated from Coulommiers they must needs retreat 
also along the whole length of the Grand Morin River. 
So that the 8th French Army which had fought a 
frontal fight all day could advance also at night across 
the river at La Ferte Gauche and Esternay. 

That is why, as I have said, there was good heart and 
good hope in the British bivouacs on this Monday night. 


Next day, Tuesday, the form of Victory emerged 
clearly from the mists of circumstance. The great down 
ward thrust of von Kluck s Army upon the 5th Army 
had failed. The British Army was driving the flank of 
this thrusting force before it in confusion from the 
Grand Morin River ; and the Army of the Ourcq, the 
upper blade of the scissors, was about to fight its way 
across that river and so threaten seriously the greater 
flank of the whole German line. To-day therefore the 
field of battle has narrowed as the blades of the scissors 

jj/iA vrhfrt f/ank of 
Q fi riiait main thrut^ naf t\i " 

8. The situation on Monday night, September yth, 
after the British victory at Coulommiers. 

approach more closely together. In the north it is still 
the Valley of the Ourcq, a river between steep banks, 
which is the mise en scene ; but farther south the Grand 
Morin has been crossed and the battle rages upon the 
plateau, eight miles broad, between the Grand Morin 
and the Petit Morin to the north of it. 

This plateau is a beautiful orchard land, but to-day 
the trees are torn and uprooted by great shells as the 
advancing British and French guns pour a continual fire 
upon the retreating Germans ; there are piles of dead 
men too lying among the orchards, and broken gun- 


carriages and accoutrements and munitions of all sorts 
which could not be gathered up to be carried away 
because of the implacable foe which pressed behind. 

There was fierce fighting for our men on this day, 
and they still speak of La Metoire where the First Corps, 
under Haig, drove the enemy forth from his lodgments 
only after a fierce encounter ; and there was much spoil 
too, because the enemy counter-attacked in a vain effort 

(Sermon Line 

9. The battle on Tuesday, September 8th. The lower blade 
of the scissors has begun to sweep upwards. 

to shake off his pursuers. But our men had their blood 
up and would not stay : despite great loss under a 
terrible sun which burnt where it beamed, they forced 
on across the ridge to the new river, the Petit Morin, 
and victory. 

That night we reached the Marne River where the 
Petit Morin flows into it, and we held the Petit Morin 
in its whole length even as the night before we had held 
the Grand Morin. The 5th French Army joined hands 


with us along the Petit Morin, having come also across 
the belt where are the orchards between the rivers ; 
and the 6th French Army holding the Ourcq joined 
hands with us where the Ourcq River flows down to the 


ON that day, Tuesday, our men went out from their 
sleeping places whistling tunes and singing as is the 
custom of the British soldier. They sang their old march 
ing song " Tipper ary," and they whistled the latest 
choruses from the London music-halls, because they were 
gay and light of heart with the good work which they 
had accomplished already across the rivers. 

But on that day they came, among the orchards, to a 
new vision and a new revelation of war, and the songs 
were hushed in their throats and the merry whistling 
upon their lips was stilled. In the morning they were as 
boys who go out to new adventure ; but in the evening 
they were grown men who have looked upon all the 
terror of lust and cruelty and have turned from it with 
the light of passion and hatred in their eyes. 

It is one thing to hear of war, another thing to see it. 
In the days of the Retreat, when the crowds of refugees 
mingled with the columns of the French and British 
Armies, men saw how sorrowful was this exodus which is 
the accompaniment of war. But that burden could be 
borne and it could be brightened. History will not tell 
how many of these French peasants, men and women and 
children too, blessed the sturdy lads from our English 
countryside for a helping hand and for rations loyally 
L 161 


shared, though the prospects of another meal were 
remote almost to the verge of the ludicrous. History 
has greater matters to deal with. But having heard from 
the lips of these people the stories of some of these good 
gifts, I am able to set them down. Our men, tired and 
war worn, yet found enough strength to carry children 
sometimes and sometimes to help a terrified family along 
the weary road by giving a pull at the farm cart or 
by a distribution of bread or a draught of precious 

So this sorrow, though it was big enough to melt any 
heart, did not take the songs from British lips. The " long 
way to Tipperary," with its gay lilt, might cheer the 
French wayfarer perhaps even as it cheered his British 
brother, and it could bring back the dimples to children s 
faces that had almost forgotten the way to smile. They 
sang all the way, and forgot the sorrow in their singing, 
and made others, whose sorrow perhaps was greater than 
theirs, forget it likewise. 

But this new sorrow which they found in the orchards, 
among the trees, could not be lightened by any singing. 
It was the sorrow of death, which is eternal, of violation, 
and rapine, and murder, where a man s eyes are dark and 
the brute beast that is within the spirit of man awakes 
and walks abroad. In the orchard they found the dwell 
ings of poor peasant folk, like the peasant folk of the 
Yorkshire dales and of the sweet Devon country, thrashed 
asunder and torn and burned, and they saw the bodies 
of women and the bodies of children, and they could 
guess as they passed by, shuddering, what doings had 
been afoot in this orchard land a few days before when 
the Hun held rule here and the sanctities and mysteries 
of life were the material of his blasphemy. 


... So they sang no more, these gallant boys, as they 
went on across the orchard land between the rivers. 

And if the British soldier from beyond the sea had his 
song killed upon his lips by this first revelation of the 
actual horror of war (of this war, for the bestiality of the 
Hun is not, thank God, the measure of all men who go 
out to fight), what of the Frenchmen who saw their own 
land, their dear France, thus ravished and profaned. 

I have seen the eyes of Frenchmen as they gazed upon 
these spectacles, and were I a German I should tremble 
greatly at the recollection. For the eyes of Frenchmen 
in these hours are like the eyes of Fate herself they 
hold things unspeakable, yet things surely, as God s 
justice itself is sure, to be accomplished to the last 

They say that the soldiers of the 5th Army as they 
won across the orchard land between the rivers and saw 
for the first time the spectacle of ruin and death, were 
as men maddened by a great wrong. Avengers of blood 
they were, and their fierce rage was a new strength like 
the strength of gods. Before this consuming fire the 
armies of the alien melted as snow. . . . And the end of 
that rage is not yet, for it burns deeply, far down in the 
living heart of France for requital when the day of 
requital and recompense shall be accomplished. 

But while these doings were afoot the battle raged 
without intermission literally to the frontiers of Switzer 
land. Next to the Army of von Kluck there was, as 
we have seen, the Army of von Buelow and then the 
Army of von Hausen, and the Army of the Imperial 
Crown Prince and the Army of the Crown Prince of 

On this 8th of September General Foch with his 9th 


French Army had faced the armies of von Buelow and 
von Hausen. He faced them across the extreme tribu 
taries of the Petit Morin River where that river rises in 
the famous Marshes of St. Gond. In the morning the 
Germans lay to the north of Sezanne, which is built upon 
the Grand Morin, and also Fere Champenoise, which lies 
to the eastward of Sezanne. But by the evening they 
had been driven to the northward over the Petit Morin 

[ Von Hauggr? J 


nch Arn\y 


10 The pincers of General Foch. 

(as a glance at the plan will show). The 5th French 
Army, as we have seen, held the line of the Petit Morin 
along with the British Army. The gth French Army 
therefore joined hands with the 5th along this river 
course just as the Army of von Buelow joined hands 
with the Army of von Kluck. 

But the Petit Morin River has its origin in a great 
swamp called the Marshes of St. Gond. So that von 
Buelow s Army was retiring over very dangerous ground, 


more especially should the weather happen to break and 
the marshes become flooded. 

To General Foch, one of the world s greatest strate 
gists, the presence of the Marshes suggested a great coup 
whereby the Army of von Buelow might be rolled up 
on either flank and driven headlong into the marshes. 

Fortune gave to the French General the first trump 
in the game in the shape of the village of Montmirail on 
the Petit Morin, to which his impetuous advance carried 
him on Tuesday night. Montmirail was at that moment 
actually in the very flank of von Buelow s Army and 
the troops which held it Foch s troops had actually 



n. How General Foch inserted one point of his pincers 

at Montmirail. 

separated the one German force from the other, von 
Buelow s from von Kluck, and had turned the right 
flank of von Buelow s Army. This night in the darkness 
Foch thrust his pincer points further up between the 
forces of von Buelow and von Kluck. Meanwhile he 
had heard that there existed a gap between von Buelow s 
Army and von Hausen s a gap this time ready-made by 
German carelessness. 

The beautiful starry night had become clouded over 
and great darkness was spread across the skies. Rain had 
begun to fall, the first rain since the night of Landrecies. 
Soon the light downpour became a great torrent, which 
flooded the rivers and made the meadow land impassable 


above all which caused the drains in the Marshes of 
St. Gond to overflow and which transformed the well- 
drained ground into the terrible quagmire of the old 

In the darkness and through the rain Foch pushed 
forward his right the other limb of the pincers into 
the opening which he had been warned by his airmen 
existed between von Buelow and von Hausen. All night 
long he pushed while the Germans lay bivouacked and 
the guns spoke and steady rain, falling in sheets, soaked 
down into the dry earth that was greedy for its coming. 

So the morning of Wednesday came, which was the 
supreme day of the conflict the day that sealed for all 
time the fate of France and of Europe perhaps the 
fate of the world. A fierce morning that was, as I w r ell 
remember, with a screeching wind and long whips of 
rain that drove mercilessly through the chill air. The 
battle-field, with its heaps of dead and its moving regi 
ments and its vast transport, was transformed into a 
quagmire, and the men who fled and the men who fol 
lowed plodded across soaking fields, under dismal skies, 
themselves soaked to the skin. 

On that Wednesday three tremendous events occurred 
almost simultaneously. 

The 6th French Army, the " taxicab 3) army, won the 
Ourcq finally, and when the Germans tried to come back 
across the river on their pontoon bridges the French 
artillery threw great shells upon the bridges so that they 
were lashed to pieces and their living freight was hurled 
into the turbid waters of the river between its high 
banks. You saw the wretched men struggle there a 
moment before they were swept away, and the river was 
full of them. . . . The river swallowed them up. 


The second event was the mighty struggles of the 
British to seize the crossings of the Marne at La Ferte- 
Sous-Jouarre and Changis. That struggle culminated 
in success. The British left won the Marne, and the 
British right which the evening before had held the 
Petit Morin crossed that stream and came also to the 
Marne River at Chateau Thierry, driving the enemy 
across the flood and drowning him in great numbers in 
its waters. The 5th French Army meanwhile which had 
resisted the great German thrust on our right, had won 

12. The scissors and pincers at work. Wednesday, September gtl\. 

through also to the Marne at Chateau-Thierry by night 
fall. So far indeed had it come that the Army of von 
Kluck was driven back from its junction with the 
Army of von Buelow and the task of the pincers of 
General Foch rendered more sure and more easy (see 

The third momentous event was the work of Foch s 
pincers. The full story of that work has still to be written. 
But the facts are plain. On the Wednesday night Foch 
drove his wedge between von Hausen and von Buelow 


and then, holding von Buelow s Army in the grip of his 
pincers, applied them to it. The right wing of von 
Buelow s Army was driven down into the Marshes of 
St. Gond, where men and guns and horses were lost in 
numbers though von Buelow succeeded in saving the 
greater part of his force. The left wing was forced 
to flee back to the Marne at Epernay, while von 
Hausen s Saxons were also driven back to Chalons, 
where they lost terribly at the hands of the pursuing 

So the battle was won and France was saved from her 
enemies. Only the task of pursuit now remained. The 
scissors of Joffre had accomplished their work. 

Fierce indeed was that pursuit over the rivers, over 
the Marne and the Ourcq, to the Aisne on Thursday and 
on Friday and on Saturday. It was the pursuit not of a 
rout but of a retiring movement quickened at places so 
as almost to resemble a rout. The Germans blew up 
the bridges behind them as they went, and so our 
engineers had to build new bridges and our infantry 
men had to cross them under a bitter fire. Our cavalry 
too hung doggedly upon the heels of the foe, harass 
ing his retreat along the wet roads and over the sodden 

All day and all night and again all day and all night the 
pursuit went forward. In the night the valley of the 
Marne blazed anew with shells and flares, and the 
thunder of the guns rolled along the steep banks of the 
river. The glow of the funeral pyres was no longer upon 
the sky, because the enemy had no time now for the 
burning of his dead, and they lay where they fell with 
their white faces upturned among the grass, thousands 
of them, the flower of the mighty force that was to have 


dealt the smashing blow that should shake all Europe 
and the world. They lay till they grew bloated and 
terrible under the hot suns, and until the whole land 
should be filled with the stench of their corruption. 

But the glow of the burning villages filled the night 
again along all the river, and Frenchmen saw it and in 
the darkness paid their solemn vows to God that this day 
should not go unremembered until the full penalty of 
its bitterness should be paid. 

. . . Away to the southward the searchlights of 
Paris pierced the darkness like sword blades of fine 

And this France that had found a new hope and a new 
life in these awful days, how did she bear the triumph 
hours that were come to her as from the hand of God ? 
France is ever the land of high emprise, the land of real 
romance. But on this day she is more than that : on 
this day in her new strength she is also the land of splen 
did and terrible renunciation. On this day when the 
bulletins tell her that the foe has been turned from her 
gates she gives way to no transports and no vain glorying. 
Her face, rather, is set towards the future, towards the 
greater day when her fair fields shall be cleansed of the 
invader and her sons shall return to the mother for whom 
they have poured out their blood. 

" Soldiers," wrote General d Esperey, the commander 
of the glorious 5th Army, from his head-quarters at 
Montmirail on September gth, " upon the memorable 
fields of Montmirail, of Vanchamps, of Champaubert, 
which a century ago witnessed the victories of our ances 
tors over Bliicher s Prussians, your vigorous offensive has 
triumphed over the resistance of the Germans. Held in 
his flanks, his resistance broken, the enemy is now retreat- 


ing towards east and north by forced marches. The most 
renowned army corps of Old Prussia, the contingents of 
Westphalia, of Hanover, of Brandenburg, have retired 
in haste before you. 

" This first success is more than a prelude. The enemy 
is shaken but not yet decisively beaten. You have still 
to undergo severe hardships, to make long marches, to 
fight hard battles. 

" May the image of our country, soiled by barbarians, 
always remain before your eyes. Never was it more 
necessary to sacrifice all for her. 

" Saluting the heroes who have fallen in the fighting 
of the last few days, my thoughts turn towards you the 
victors in the next battle. 

" Forward, soldiers, for France." 

It is indeed a new France that I find myself in this 
September morning when they are passing the long con 
voys of the prisoners to the rear and hastening up rein 
forcements to the front. There are new lights in men s 
eyes, and a new tone is in their voices. A troop of the 
chasseurs rides past me, the splendid coats of their 
horses gleaming in the morning sun, their bits and spurs 
jingling deliciously. They laugh and sing as they go by, 
the little snatches of song that are the French soldier s 
most cherished characteristics, at once gay and alluring 
and sorrowful. 

And the peasant girls who have heard the great news 
throw flowers at the horsemen flowers gathered from 
little gardens that have only just escaped the feet of the 
spoiler roses and chrysanthemums and even little 
wreaths woven cunningly of laurels. 

At another place I heard far away that splendid ring 
ing sound that no Briton has ever listened to unmoved 


the sound of a British cheer rising in strong crescendo. 
A moment later a great troop train swings along the line, 
the soldiers hanging from the carriage windows to salute 
the new land they are come to. On the train are huge 
pontoons like the pontoons that they brought to Bou 
logne before the retreat. They are going up to the 
rivers these lads to the harassing and pursuit of the 
enemy. Another great cheer and they are gone, and 
you see the train far away a vanishing speck upon the 
wide plain. 

At the station a French troop train stands vis-a-vis 
with a train of German prisoners. The prisoners are 
quite composed, and they are engaged in the strange work 
of bartering their spiked helmets for money and luxuries. 
The Frenchmen are eager buyers and so are a group of 
Englishmen upon the platform. Fifteen francs for a 
helmet, or fourteen francs and a packet of tobacco 
and in this hour the crowd forgets that it is war and 
laughs and applauds while the sale goes merrily on. For 
they are brother men after all, when the unspeakable 
thing is taken away and banished from them. 

This then is the story of the Battle of the Marne, 
which I have called the Battle of all Battles. From the 
Marne the Germans fled to the Aisne, and the long war 
fare of trenches was begun with its new battles and its 
new crises. Along these old plains of France there will 
yet be fought great battles which shall decide great 
destinies. But the Marne battle will stand alone even 
when it has been eclipsed in point of mere magnitude. 
Never again will there be fought, in this war at any rate, 
a battle to decide the fate of all mankind and to deter 
mine not only the allegiance but the thought, the lives, 
and even the salvation of civilised men. 


At the Marne system and discipline and oppression 
the machine man met the nobler and the truer dis 
cipline of liberty. . . . And the iron fetters were 
broken that had been made ready for the enslaving of 
the world. 


IT was night when I came to Paris, one of the nights 
after the battle, when the news of victory was spread 
abroad in the city. The city had gone to sleep, with 
the news in its mind and with a prayer upon its lips a 
prayer of thanks to the good God because once more 
He had saved France from the hands of her enemies. 
I drove through empty streets, which were quite dark, 
like the streets of a remote village. There was no 
one abroad except an occasional gendarme. Could this 
indeed be Paris, the Paris of Austerlitz and Marengo and 
Jena, even of the early days of 70 ? For all these vic 
tories were as nothing to this victory, and those others 
she celebrated with mad rejoicings. From Montmartre 
to the river, from the river to the heights of the 
Latin Quarter, the city kept her vast silence, a watchful 
silence perhaps, but a silence deep and strange and 

I was in Paris in May before the war cloud had begun 
to gather in the skies and when the trees in the Champs 
Elysees and the Bois had just dressed themselves once 
again in their delicious greens. I stood in the Etoile 
and watched the motor-cars and carriages, I remember ; 
and then looked up at the great Arc and wondered if 
France had at last forgotten if she had resigned herself 


174 PARIS 

to a showy cosmopolitanism and relinquished the heritage 
of nationality in the grand and narrow sense, if she was 
content to be called the second country of all men, the 
" home from home amongst the nations, and her Paris 
the city without a memory because memory held only 
bitterness and grief ? 

But walking home in the clear twilight across the 
Concord, with the huge bulk of the Louvre rising up 
before me, I knew that it could not be so, and that this 
nation, under its mask of merriment, hid a sad and a 
shamed heart. I knew that Frenchmen could not waver 
in their glorious allegiance to France, which has remained 
one of the miracles of all the ages. 

And then I came to a statue which was draped in black 
a veiled statue. 

It was the statue of Strassburg, the lost city, in the 
lost Province. 

And five months later I am in the Paris of the Great 
War, the Paris of the Battle of the Marne, of Joffre and 
the 5th Army, of Gallieni. To-day the Etoile is empty ; 
to-day these few passers-by who come to the great star- 
square look with new eyes upon Napoleon s mighty arch 
by which came Moltke and his Prussians in the days of 
darkness. They see that scene no more now, but other 
scenes when the little man of their dreams came home to 
his capital which he had raised to be the capital of the 
world. There are smiles upon the lips of the men and 
women who look this day upon the Arc de Triomph de 
1 Etoile. . . . And in the Concord they have torn away 
the veil from the Strassburg statue, hanging wreaths of 
flowers upon it. 

Paris is empty as she has not been empty these forty 
years. The Grand Boulevards are empty, the Rue Royal 

PARIS 175 

is empty, there are no longer children at play behind the 
railings in the Tuileries Gardens, the fountains do not 
play any more, and the birds, the sparrows of Paris, go 
unfed. This emptiness seems to be everywhere like a 
presence. You cannot escape from it. If you wander 
by the quays it will find you there in the shape of barges 
moored idle by the walls and uninhabited ; if you cross 
the Pont Neuf to the Cite and in the square before 
Notre Dame again it will come upon you. The great 
cathedral is silent to-day and the winged monster on its 
roof gazes out over a deserted city ; there is something 
strange and terrible in this silence before the Cathedral 
of Notre Dame, where usually the voiteurs are gathered 
and the American tourists crowd together vociferously. 
Even the Latin Quarter has no life or joy left to it. 
. . . And in the great square of the Place Vendome the 
figure of Napoleon looks down upon empty streets . . . 
the Rue de la Paix shuttered and empty ! 

Paris has gone, fled away to Bordeaux and Orleans ; or 
Paris is at home indoors. The city is safe and knows 
itself safe : but the Spirit of the city is calm and stern, 
like the Spirit of the Army which is the Spirit of all 

But at the aperitif hour you will still find a few way 
farers, and in the cafes you will meet with soldiers who 
have already returned for a tiny space from the battle 
field to the city. 

This cafe is like the Brussels cafe (of which I have 
written) on the night after the news of Liege. It is full 
of men in black coats, elderly men, who are of the mer 
chant class or who have come to hear the news from the 
soldiers because the newspapers no longer tell anything 
which men want to hear. These black-coated men are 

176 PARIS 

getting a little merry over their wine, and so they are 
talking quickly, volubly, explaining their views about the 
battle and the strategy of the battle, while the soldiers, 
who have spoken already, listen to them in some amuse 
ment, but tolerantly as parents listen to the prattle of 
their children. There are a few women in the company, 
but these are women of strict propriety from suburban 
homes probably. The other women are not here : they 
are no longer in Paris at all, thanks to the forethought of 
a paternal administration. 

The women are much more interested in the soldiers 
than in the black-coated men who, no doubt, are their 
husbands or fathers. You may see how their eyes dwell 
upon the faces of the soldiers upon the lean-faced 
artilleryman with the clean-cut features who bears a 
faint resemblance to the pictures of the young Napoleon 
upon the dashing cuirassier with his big moustache and 
his grand manner. 

The artilleryman begins presently to tell some of his 
experiences, and the men in the black coats are silent 

" I was on the left," he says, " on the Ourcq. Mon 
Dieu, but it was hot, there, on the left. . . ." He spreads 
out his hands, thin and white like those of a woman 
who sits next to him. . . . " We counted our lives as 
from one minute to the next, while the 75 s were working, 
barking and biting ; they are good children our 75 s." 

" It is wonderful," a woman says ; and her face is 
aglow with a devotion like that which must have blazed 
in the face of Joan of Arc. Every Frenchwoman at this 
table, you think every Frenchwoman in this city of Paris 
is a Joan of Arc to-night. And you learn quite sud 
denly, so that you are almost startled by the discovery, 



< 15 
^ <U 










PARIS 177 

all that women mean and signify in the life of Paris and 
of France. You learn that the story of Joan of Arc is 
the story of France in all the ages. . . . 

" Our Joffre," the caressing voice of another woman 
exclaims. "... To have been the mother of that 
man ! " 

They close the cafe at 9 o clock and after that there 
is only the street. It is useless to walk in the direction 
of Montmartre to-night, unless you wish to view the 
sepulchre of those other days. There is no Bal for 
the Englishman who demands that for his five pounds 
paid to a tourist agency he shall see Paris naughty or 
something like it. The Moulin Rouge is shut. Even 
the Paris of night which the Englishman on cheap tour 
does not see is to be seen no longer. The Germans have 
gone, taking their womenfolk and their shop-window 
vices away with them. Paris to-night is the Capital of 
France, a French city. The French are a grave people 
did you not know it ? and a people of sober life. 

A Frenchman who walked those dark streets with me 
that night said, I remember : " For years your fellow- 
countrymen have come to Paris to be regaled with sin 
made in Germany. We are tolerant, and so you mis 
understood. . . . Now it will be otherwise." 

We stood at the closed and shuttered doors of " Olym 
piad He laughed a little, then his voice grew hard and 

" We have waited for this day all our lives. This day 
France is re-born. You will never see the old France 
or the old Paris again." 

It is so dark in the Grand Boulevards that you cannot 
even read the names over the shop doors. Opposite the 
Madeleine you pause a moment to realise if you can all 

178 PARIS 

the strangeness of this night of gloom, of silence. Half- 
past nine and Paris sleeps ! Above the dark avenues over 
the house-tops are the stars, which men did not see in 
these city ways until yesterday. It is a great cleansing 
surely which has been wrought by the hands of war 
cleansing of the tinsel of life, leaving behind the essential 
things ; laying bare a nation s heart in its strength and 
its devotion. 

In all your knowledge of Paris you dreamed not of 
this Paris. Yet the new vision neither surprises nor dis 
quiets. Somehow, in some unexplained manner, you 
have known a long time that it is of this material that 
French hearts are made you have known that when 
the hour struck the soul of France would awake. France 
fights on this night for her life and for her place among 
the peoples ; she fights silently with the quiet courage of 
a desperation that knows no respite. ... It is terrible, 
this quiet and this darkness that cover the face of the 

And on the morrow the streets are still quiet under a 
glorious sun that showers its arrows upon a hundred 
towers and minarets. Sacre Cceur gleams from the 
heights, white as a temple of Greece ; above the bend of 
the river the Trocadero recalls happy .memories graciously; 
the golden dome of the Invalides is burnished anew, and 
there is beauty even in the gaunt shape of the Eiffel 
tower thrust up into the ambient light. You may hear 
children at play, a few children of the poor class, in the 
gardens of the Tuileries, and they are playing the war 
game here under the Strassburg statue, as their fathers 
are playing it a few miles away where they pile up the 
bodies of the dead to make a buttress against the enemies 
of France. 

PARIS 179 

The social order is reversed and such life as remains 
to the capital is to be seen at midday, before the hour 
of dejeuner. Officers walk at this time in the boulevards 
talking earnestly together ; they are old men for the most 
part, grizzled, with stern expressions which, however, 
are belied by kindly eyes. They will lunch at Maxim s, 
at the end of the Rue Royal, which has become French 
once more and a great meeting-place of officers, and 
there too you will discover Englishmen from the Aisne, 
and Belgians, with a sprinkling of lesser political and 
diplomatic people, and, of course, the cheerful and 
ubiquitous journalist. . . . The talk is all of the battle, 
for already men begin to realise how great a salvation 
has been accomplished. The legend of the invincible 
Prussian is broken ; France feels again the warm blood 
of her strength rushing in her veins. The bitterness of 
death is past. France will not die ; she has risen from 
the dead. 

It is the very reverse of the feeling which was mani 
fested in the cafes of Brussels. There the numbing in 
fluence of doubt and apprehension chilled the spirit ; 
here, on the contrary, hope is made young that men may 
be in love with her. It is as though a plague has been 
stayed ; as though the world comes again to honour and 
truth and liberty. 

As the days pass you learn, in Paris, exactly what the 
Retreat from Mons and the Battle of the Marne have 
meant. In the fierce days of retreat this lesson could 
not be learned, because men s minds were racked with 
anxiety and foreboding. But now in this calm clear air 
of benevolent autumn it is possible to secure a little 
perspective. You see how great a triumph JofTre accom 
plished when he sacrificed acres to men and saved the 

180 PARIS 

army at the expense of some of the most valuable terri 
tory in France. That choice and that decision must have 
been bitter indeed. Yet how fully justified by events ! 
For men saved are a guarantee of future salvation. So 
in later days were the Russians to defeat the smashing 
blow delivered against them by yielding territory and 
saving men until the force of the blow should be ex 

They made excursions from Paris in those days to the 
deserted fields of the Marne, where white corpses still 
lay unburied and the accoutrements of war were scattered 
across green fields. And they brought back to the city 
souvenirs gathered from the battle-ground, helmets of 
dead soldiers bearing the dreaded motto " Mitt Gott f iir 
Konig und Vaterland," and great pieces of shells with 
jagged edges and time fuses battered and broken. There 
were strange wicker baskets too, in which the shells had 
been carried, and long copper tubes that were their 
cartridge covers, and rifles and broken bayonets. And 
these were the remnants of the army which was to have 
conquered the world, the army of blood and of iron, the 
devourers of Belgium, the ravishers of France. Women 
played with the relics in the cafes, handling them 
casually, even without curiosity. To such a pass of in 
difference has this debauchery brought our world ! 

The battle-field but there is no battle-field, believe 
me, any longer. Autumn leaves are falling softly upon 
the dead faces as the good God spreads his pall of forget- 
fulness over this horror great chestnut fans yellow in 
the sunlight and small beech leaves and oak leaves that 
rustle gently under the wind. The dead sink back upon 
a gracious sward and the weapons of war are cold under 
pure skies. To-morrow the plough and the oxen of the 

PARIS 181 

plough will pass by this way effacing . . . effacing. . . . 
And that yonder is Meaux the town of fire and blood. 
You may gaze upon the white ruins, the shell holes and 
the broken roofs and the windows without panes. To 
morrow they will rebuild as men rebuild after a storm, 
in great confidence that the two hands of a man are 
potent against all anger and all hatred. 

On this day a crowd has gathered in the great square 
before the Invalides. The crowd has gathered to watch 
the soldiers parading, these new soldiers of France upon 
the holy ground of the French Army and the French 
people, almost within earshot (as they say wistfully) of 
the little man who sleeps under the dome, and who used 
to parade his soldiers upon this place when the name of 
France was terrible among all nations. This crowd is not 
large ; it is not familiar, because in Paris in the old days 
one did not see Frenchmen and Frenchwomen as one 
may see them now. The mask of those days, the affluence, 
the insouciance, the gaiety, where is it ? These people 
are very calm unlike your conventional French folk ; 
they are stern even and they have a quiet ease of manner 
which is altogether delightful. The women are dressed 
in very sombre clothes and there are many widows among 
their number. When they look at the soldiers you may 
see their eyes soften and then, if you watch carefully, 
grow bright with pride. The women of France have 
not forsaken her traditions : the women of France are 
her strong defence. Up at the Etoile they are sitting 
even now knitting comforts for the men, and in the 
hospitals they are labouring night and day without 
respite. There is no woman in France who has not made 
this war her sacred cause, whose spirit is not aglow with 
love and pride and hope. 

182 PARIS* 

And the soldiers. . . . These are boys of the new 
class only just come to man s estate. To-day the estate 
of a Frenchman is a defender of France. They step so 
proudly, with that knowledge in their hearts ; their boy 
faces are lit with it so that they have a holy light in them 
under the golden sky and under the shadow of the great 
dead. Their new uniforms are sacred already, and 
already they have made, one and all, the great renuncia 

Has England realised this passion of devotion which has 
swept the French race like a strong fire ? Has England 
guessed how deep were the wounds to French pride in 
flicted by the defeat of 70 ; how cruel the sorrow ; how 
unbearable the pain ? Englishmen were deceived by 
that surface mirth that hid the torment for France is 
terrible in her sensitiveness ; they knew the gaiety but 
the tragedy they did not know, and the lips of France 
were sealed. . . . 

The band has played the Marseillaise, not once but 
many times ; the Marseillaise is the music of France, 
which no other people can hope to imitate. It is France ; 
it speaks her splendid and troubled spirit ; it reveals her 
joy and her long, long sorrow. France is the child spirit 
of the nations ; all things have come to her ; all things 
have been known of her ; the cups of joy and sorrow, 
of defeat and victory, of shame and triumph all of 
these she has drained to the dregs. And she lives still a 
child, fervent, generous, beautiful. 

You may learn all this upon the great square before 
the Invalides this September day after the Battle of the 

But there is yet another lesson to be learnt. For sud 
denly upon the peace breaks a great terror that flies 

PARIS 183 

swiftly, affording no warning. You hear the first thrill 
of it from the crowd itself. ..." Taube ! And then 
the angry buzzing of the propeller comes shortly with 
the alternating breeze. You gaze up following the uni 
versal instinct. It is yet a long way off, a speck like a 
great bird seen clearly above the turrets of Sacre Cceur. 

There is a sound of guns firing, and the women in the 
crowd utter little short exclamations which are not fear 
but only excitement and curiosity. The crowd does not 
move ; it does not even thin out, though the booming 
of the guns is become loud and menacing, and the vul 
ture-bird is sweeping towards the place with terrible 

The women smiled with brave lips ; and once there 
was a sound of light laughter which rang out musically 
in the stillness. 

Then the aeroplane threw bombs, and you could hear 
the crashing reverberation of them among the streets in 
the neighbourhood of the Lazare Station. The people 
laughed again ; they did not pause in their watching. 
The aeroplane swerved to the eastward, and then it was 
seen that there were two of them, perhaps more. You 
could not catch any murmur of fear. A moment later the 
danger was ended amid the crashing of bombs which 
fell upon the roof of Notre Dame de Paris. 

The soldiers continued their drilling. 

The women are knitting at the Etoile in the gardens 
the women who have remained in Paris. They do not 
pause in their work except when an ambulance goes by 
to one of the hospitals in the Champs Elysees. They 
look up and sigh for the brave men who have given 
strength and hope for France. The women will not 
forget in France, and their memory will include English- 

184 PARIS 

men as well as Frenchmen ; for France is tender always 
to those who have succoured her, no matter what dis 
putes may arise by the way. In the Champs Elysees are 
many hospitals, and indeed in all Paris, for the Marne 
has left behind a terrible toll of suffering and mutilation ; 
and it is only now, days after the battle, that they are 
gathering the wounded and bringing them to the capital. 

France and England have reason to remember the 
kindness of America during this sad period. When there 
were few hospitals and many wounded, when danger 
threatened and helpers were difficult to recruit, when 
France and England had their hands full with the great 
retreat and the great battle, then came America to the 
rescue, offering, as she called it, her " gift to humanity. 3 

A noble gift, nobly conceived a great hospital, fully 
equipped, staffed, with a transport service of its own, 
ready to receive the poor wrecks from the shambles 
beside the rivers. They planned it in the American 
Embassy, and they placed it in a great new school at 
Neuilly, just beyond the gates of the city. Americans of 
all classes thronged to help in the work. The congierge 
was a famous artist ; a famous sculptor assisted him. In 
the wards most eminent physicians and surgeons gave 
time and money liberally. Women whose names are 
famous in two continents wore the uniforms of nurses. 
The ambulance convoy went out into the by-ways of 
the battle and brought back wounded soldiers in hun 
dreds, Frenchmen and Britons and even Germans ; and 
these were laid side by side in the long sweet wards and 
taught to believe again that there is kindness and love 
and beauty in the world. 

Linger in this ward and realise all the horror and all 
the madness of war. That man is a French peasant from 

PARIS 185 

the south country, where they till the vineyards on the 
slopes of the Pyrenees and where peaceful ploughmen 
follow great white oxen through the long days of spring. 
He is grievously wounded and the soul of him seems to 
hover, doubtingly in his wide eyes. His mute eyes are 
full of wonder that this thing should have been done upon 
the fair earth. Next to him a German lies, a cropped- 
headed fellow with rather heavy features. He is a Saxon 
and he will tell you that he has a wife and family there, 
in his own country, who write kind letters to him and are 
proud of him because they believe that he is fighting his 
country s battles. His wife and children, he says, are 
dreadfully apprehensive as to his safety ; they do not 
cease to think about him, and his children love him very 
dearly because he has always been a just and good father 
to them. Yes, he will certainly be very grateful if steps 
are taken to make it known that he is alive and likely to 
recover. . . . He is weak and so he allows a tear or two 
to roll down his cheek. 

A Hun (he was amongst those who swept down 
through Belgium and France) but now not " Hun- 

What is this then that has converted a good father 
into a despoiler of the women and children of other 
men ? 

And not far off a big Highlander with the soft accent 
of the West of Scotland lies uneasily, in great suffering. 
This man kept a road once upon a time up in the clean 
moorlands of Argyllshire, where the peace of Heaven is 
not broken through all the seasons. In his delirium he 
has returned to that beloved work and wanders now by 
the sunrise lochs of his native land, where the black pine 
trees whisper together at the dawn. 

186 PARIS 

At Versailles they have another hospital, where friend 
and foe lie side by side in quiet wards. Under the Palace 
of the Kings this hospital is set, upon the ancient Courts 
of Chivalry where every stone wears a memory. But 
these simple folks who have been brought hither to do 
battle with one another know little of that great tradi 
tion. What is it to them that the Sun King wandered 
here in the days of his glory, or that here the Invader wore 
for the first time his Imperial crown, trampling the form 
of France beneath his feet ? They are simple folk ; 
devout folk for the most part in spite of their rough and 
boyish freedom of speech. I met a man here who was a 
railwayman in a Fifeshire village ; another who minded 
cattle in Devon, a third who belonged to the quiet, hard 
people of the Fen country ; and I met Saxons and Bavar 
ians here also, and even a few Prussians from the dead 
lands near the Polish frontier. 

It was Sunday evening, and while I spoke to them an 
army chaplain, a mere boy, with a pink face and very 
nervous in his manner, came into the ward to conduct 
evensong. He spoke a word or two and the Scotsmen and 
Englishmen and the Saxons and Bavarians and Prussians 
had no longer any memory of their bitterness. They 
prayed with him, each in his own tongue, whispering as 
men whisper who have much eagerness to be heard and 
very much to ask for. And later I heard them sing a 
hymn together for I had gone out into the gardens of 
the palace under the stars, where once the knights and 
dames of France were wont to wander. The familiar 
tune was like a benediction, though the singing lacked 
almost everything of harmony. 


THE Battle of the Aisne will go down to history as 
one of the world s " fights without a finish. 3 The 
more so because it succeeded so closely upon the Marne, 
in which, by reason of the fact that victory was plucked 
from the very jaws of defeat, the Western Powers will 
ever see the promise of their salvation. Yet this view of 
the Aisne is not quite accurate and should be tempered 
by at least one momentous consideration. It was upon 
the banks of the Aisne that the redemption of France and 
the safety of England were sealed. 

Consider what was the position when this fearful 
struggle was joined. The German host had been 
surprised and thrust back, Paris had been saved, the 
Allies had taken new heart and three nations had lifted 
up their heads again. But the enemy, likewise, had 
saved himself. He had turned his defeat to account 
in that he had preserved his forces from annihilation. 
He was defeated ; he was not routed. His losses, 
great as they were, were not so great as to render 
him less able to carry on the offensive movement upon 
which his final hopes of success depended. . . . And 
the autumn weather remained ideal for his purpose. 
. . . The winter was as yet far off. 

The Aisne, then, from the German point of view, was 



a halting-place, no more. It was a rest-station where 
exhausted forces might be rallied and tentative efforts 
which had failed might be reorganised. The very 
strength of the place secured it, so they thought, 
against assault. Here on the cliffs above the river they 
might hold the forces of the Allies until such time 
as they should be able to renew the offensive move 
ment and sweep down, a second time, upon the plains 
of Paris. 

But these considerations were of little account to the 
Allied forces which came to the river bank on Saturday, 
September 12. The Allied forces were very strong now, 
with the new strength of victory. A great joy and a 
great pride filled the breast of every soldier. Had they 
not defeated the great onslaught ; had they not turned 
back the " invincible army which cannot be beaten " ; 
had they not seen the vaunted Prussian soldiers fleeing 
in surprise before them ? Throughout France and Eng 
land hopes beat very high ; the Aisne, men said, should 
be the ending of the great punishment begun upon the 
Marne ; this battle would resolve itself, surely, into 
another defeat for the foe, who must then fall back along 
his whole line, leaving France and Belgium free once 
more to their rightful owners. " We shall winter upon 
the Rhine," was the universal prophecy, and there were 
few who cared or dared to dispute it. 

The time was Saturday evening. The German Army 
had retreated some sixty kilometres across the richest 
plains of France, across the broad Marne and the lands 
of Champagne so lately the scene of their debauchery. 
Rheims, the city of a hundred kings, was " uncovered " ; 
Soissons and Compiegne were vacated ; but the River 
Aisne itself was held as yet, and the great guns had been 


mounted in the quarries above Soissons to command the 

He who would understand this battle must fix his 
mind upon these quarries above the river at Soissons. 
They are the keys which unlock the door of the mystery 
of this battle, the mystery of a battle that was won and 
yet lost by France and England, and that even now, as I 
write, has not been decided finally. 

The quarries of Soissons have a history, as I learned 
one night from an agent in a Secret Service which knows 
no superior. " They belong," he said, " to the little 
accidents of history which are so big when one looks at 
them in the retrospect like the little horseshoe nail 
which decided the battle. These quarries why, there 
were other days when great farm carts used to go up to 
them across the bridge or so I have heard laden with 
manure for the mushroom beds. They grew mushrooms 
in the quarries once upon a time. It was a company which 
owned that business. And can you believe it, the com 
pany was floated in Germany ! But the good people of 
the Aisne Valley are not suspicious. They did not in 
quire too closely what it was that these manure carts 
carried so industriously to the quarries upon the hill. 
Manure no doubt, manure for the mushrooms. Until 
the Battle of the Marne was fought and the guns began 
to speak from the mushroom beds in the quarries." My 
informant smiled as he added : " The country folk were 
indeed very unsuspecting, for during the days of the 
great Retreat they drove their herds into the quarries 
for safety, so that when the enemy fell back upon them 
he found them ready victualled for his comfort." 

The Germans prepared for a great effort upon the 
north bank of the Aisne, upon the heights which over- 


look the river. Here he must hold his foe or yield up the 
major portion of his conquest. If the Allies should suc 
ceed in driving him back across the plateau by Leon and 
the Forest of the Eagle all that had been won so hardly 
at Mons and Landrecies and Le Cateau would be lost 

On Sunday morning, therefore, when the hosts faced 
each other, desperate men faced desperate men. " Hold 
the Aisne or die was the order of the day along the 
whole enemy front : " Win the river at all costs was 
the Allied watchword. And the river, swollen by the 
recent rains, rushed turbid and swift between its high 
banks at their feet. 

The battle began with an artillery duel across the valley, 
for only when the terrible guns in the quarries had been 
silenced was an assault upon the main enemy position 
possible. The valley became soon an inferno. The air 
was shrill with the passage of the huge shells, and great 
clouds of smoke marked the places where the high ex 
plosives burst. A dreadful booming echoed between the 
river banks and was carried upon the wind even to the 
gates of Paris, so that men and women knew that the 
great struggle for France and for the world was joined 
once more. The German guns were the bigger and they 
were better mounted, there in the quarries, than were 
those of the Allies upon the southern bank. But the 
gunners who had won the crossing-ways of the Marne 
knew how to face this superior fire with a superior 
courage and so to triumph against it. 

And while the guns thundered along the heights what 
scenes were being enacted in the valley, across the river 
meadows that stretch out upon either side from the 
waters of the river itself! Here, upon the meadows 


men were fighting out, inch by inch, the possession 
of the valley and of the heights beyond the valley, of 
the fair lands to north and south, of France, of the 

At Soissons a broken girder of a bridge still stands, and 
that is footing enough for desperate men to go forward 
into the jaws of death. There are other crossing places 
that have not even this shadow-semblance of a bridge. 
At Fontenoy, at Vic-sur-Aisne and close to Amblenz there 
are other crossing places if you have boats to cross in or 
men who will build bridges for you under a rain of shells 
and bullets. . . . The engineers are at work by the river 
side as you have seen them working by quiet rivers in 
England, when the leaves drooped to the water of a sum 
mer s afternoon and the shy kingfisher hid him beneath 
delicious foliage. The Royal Engineers on this day are 
building much more than bridges, though as yet they 
have not guessed it. 

How quietly they go about this work which in all his 
tory has not been equalled for danger and terror. That 
man with the boy face who binds together those uprights 
near the bank ... do you see how he has paled sud 
denly in the noonday sunlight and how he reels and falls 
backward on a kindly sward with a little froth of red 
blood upon his lips ? Mark that his unfinished work 
scarcely suffers from this event. There is already another 
in his place and already the quick rope is plied deftly 
about the planks. 

Watch that soldier in the boat as he works his way along 
the half-constructed piers examining and suggesting. 
Already his life is lost a hundred times a minute and 
saved as by the Grace of God. Yet he does not pause in 
his work. Time is so short here upon the river of death, 


and there is so much to be accomplished before the 

In the camp above the hill at Boulogne they had great 
pontoons upon waggons, and the pontoons looked like 
the " property of some entertainment, like the green 
boats which sail so easily upon the jocund streams of a 
Christmas pantomime. . . . There again are the green 
boats, being dragged down to the Aisne river on this 
September Sunday when men and women in England 
are sitting around their midday meal . . . the panto 
mime effect has been lost somehow. . . . 

The engineers labour doggedly under a fire which eats 
into their numbers. Slowly and sternly they pursue the 
slow stern work of dragging their pantomime ships to the 
river s edge and launching them upon the swift water. 

But the guns upon the height have already been trained 
upon the frail bridge that has been woven and girded by 
hands already cold in death. Across the valley breaks out 
a dreadful cannonade with shrieking shell and exploding 
bomb. The bridge is burst asunder as it swings in the 
swift current of the river, and the green ships are hurled 
madly against the banks where they beat themselves to 
destruction. But at Neuizel there was a road bridge 
which was still capable of being repaired. A pontoon 
bridge was built near it, and so in spite of the guns 
that continue to thunder their menace from the wooded 
heights above the river the hour of the footmen draws 
near and men gird themselves to face the ordeal that lies 
before them the ordeal of the bridge and the fiercer 
ordeal of the heights that stretch beyond it. 

. . . And the day grows old under the green banks and 
the sound of the wind amongst the trees is mournful 
and bitter. . . t 


" Throb of a thousand feet, 
Hear the brave beating ! 
Over the sweet low grass, 
Over the babbling ford by the brooks meeting 
Where the oxen pass 
Up to the hell-night s lowering face, 
Where Death hath hidden her bridal place, 
And young Death faints in young Life s embrace." 

In the hour of sunset a chill wind sweeps the heights 
bearing rain in short, sharp whips. They struggle across 
the bridges, who still live in that hell of fire ; they sweep 
the meadow lands with their bullets ; they rush forward, 
bayonets fixed and faces flushed. They struggle upon 
the heights with a foe whom they scarce can see in the 
darkness. . . . And the panting of strong men who 
struggle for life and the moaning of men who die is 
mingled under the darkness beneath the forest trees of 
the Eagle. 

And so the heights are won for this day at any rate, and 
the enemy thrown back. And not at one place only, but 
at many places. The river no longer divides friend from 
foe. Good augury here, surely, for the days that are to 


I have passed through a smiling land to a land wearing 
the mask of death ; through harvest fields rich with 
great stacks snugly builded against the winter to the 
fields of a braver harvest ; by jocund villages where 
there is no break in the ebb and flow of everyday life to 
villages and towns that despoiling hands have shattered 
in ruins. And I have passed up this Via Dolorosa towards 
the very harvesting itself where under level skies the 
river flows red with the blood of youth and courage and 



Above the river is the plain, and beyond, set in the 
plain, a height, the massif of Leon, where the enemy 
gathered himself a week ago for the assault which should 
sweep back those insolent English from the northern 
bank. What a theatre this for great battling. There 
away to eastward is the Champagne country with Rheims 
rising splendid among her hills, and there westward the 
Oise flows tranquil through delicious meadows that are 
tender as yet with the caresses of summer. 

I know of heroic work along these plains of France 
that will live while men speak of the great things which 
men have wrought ; but the tale of them is too long to 
be told. I know of fierce attacks the thought of which 
is like strong wine in a man s blood, and I have heard 
how the columns went down again and again to the 
blazing death in the valley, and how men worked build 
ing and girding with hands that gripped, as it were, upon 
the throat of death, winning moments that in death 
they might know the accomplishment of their purpose. 

Here is an extract from a letter written upon the banks 
of the river : 

" We lay together, my friend and I ... the order 
came to fire. We shot and shot till our rifles burned. Still 
they swarmed on towards us. We took careful aim all the 
while. But at last I grew tired. I turned to him my 
friend and as I turned there came a thud like the thud 
of a spade upon newly turned earth. He rolled over 
slowly so that I saw the face of him. ... I think that 
my aim was not less good afterwards. . . ." 

" It was queerly quiet in the night," said another of 
the men who crossed that day by a pontoon bridge over 
the Aisne river. 

The Aisne was a frontal battle ; it was a siege. It was 


during these early days of the Battle of the Aisne that 
Europe got its first intimation of what the long months 
to come had in store of the weary trench warfare that 
was to make of Europe a vast fortification builded around 
the Central States* The hopes, that beat so high, while 
memory of the Marne remained fresh, met on this 
terrible river their quenching. The days went by and 
the toll of death mounted up, and yet there was no 
decision. Men said, " To-morrow it will end ; they 
cannot last much longer." But the morrow ever falsified 
prediction while good soldiers gave their lives for the 
bitter heights that were so near, and the autumn leaves 
sailed down to earth in the forest lands to north and south. 
The line from Paris to the Aisne is the line which 
runs from Crepy en Valois and Villiers Cotterets 
though you may travel also by another route. What a 
journey that was in these days of the battle before the 
knowledge of the weary days had dawned upon men s 
understanding ! You came from a city in the young 
glow of enthusiasm by pleasant orchard lands where the 
fruit hung ripe and golden in the sunlight. Mile upon 
mile the good country of France unrolled itself before 
you, a land of peace and great quiet, so it seemed. When 
the train stopped and you put your head out of the car 
riage window the delicious stillness of this world was a 
solace. Here had not the foot of the enemy been placed. 
These fields lay unviolated under the skies, the rich fields, 
ripe to the harvest. You marked the little villages each 
with its church rising above the roofs of the houses, and 
its church tower that may be seen far away as one sees 
the towers of the churches in the fen country eastward 
of Lincoln and Ely. A wind that blew softly brought 
the voices of the country graciously to your ears. . , , 


" How little after all war alters things," was the thought 
in your mind, and perhaps in your face also, when, sud 
denly, as though a long-pent flood had broken its bonds, 
the Frenchman, your travelling companion, broke in 
upon your reflection. 

" Monsieur sees," he declared, " what this enemy has 
accomplished. Is it not terrible ? : 

You had not seen. You dared not confess it. You 
allowed him to tell you his grief and his anger. 

" Listen," he cried, raising his voice in his excitement. 
" Ah, you hear nothing ,> . only the voice of the land 
which is the voice of birds and cattle. The voice of man, 
but it is no longer to be heard in these villages from which 
my people have been driven away." 

He rose and pointed north-westward towards a low 
upland that rolled like a wave in the plain. " There is 
Senlis, behind those tree-tops, and in a few minutes 
you will see what they have accomplished even here." 

You had already seen the martyrdom of Senlis and 
could tell him so. 

" Senlis," he cried, " it is a name written for ever 
upon our history . . . and upon our hearts. Shall we 
forget those names ? Shall we forget the things that 
have been perpetrated upon us, upon our women and 
our children ? Listen, I am an old man, I have lived. 
But this day I pray God that I may live just a little 
longer that I may see these dogs brought to the judgment. 
That I may see the coming of justice once again into the 

" Ah, you mean the battle now being fought." 

He shook his head then, because he knew more than 
you knew. 

" Monsieur, I am too old to believe that. They are 


not killed with a cane, these vipers. It will not be this 
battle, nor the battle of to-morrow, even, that will end 
them. . . . But the days will bring judgment and justice 
just the same." 

In Paris on the day war was declared against Germany 
a funeral passed through a mean street, and the gamins 
stopped their play to stare at it. One of the boys 
shrugged his shoulders when the funeral had gone past. 
He said : 

" Monsieur n est pas curieux." 

Perhaps you recalled that incident when your travel 
ling companion said that he prayed God that he might live 
just a little longer to see " these dogs brought to 

And then the train began to move again, and suddenly 
you beheld the scars of war upon the face of this smiling 
land. You saw a farmhouse set in its orchard ; the roof 
of the house was rent with great holes and the windows 
had been ripped out like the torn pockets of an old coat. 
There were dead things lying in the orchard, heaped, 
huddled. You would not have speculated as to what 
they might be had not your companion insisted in words 
that seemed to hiss as he uttered them. ... In the 
orchard it seemed there had been a bitter encounter of 
small units. And this is a station into which the train 
creeps so carefully, as if mindful of its safety. That 
huge battered drum of iron that is like a beacon washed 
ashore after a great storm, that was a water-tank in the 
old days where the engines might replenish. It is rolled 
now upon the top of the waiting-room, and both have 
gone together to ruin. Behind the station, in the road 
way, there are piles of bricks and mud and planks that 
were once rafters the station-master s house. 


And farther along the line, standing alone by the road 
side, you saw a sight that very nearly brought the tears 
to your eyes even in these days of stern reality. It was a 
London omnibus. . . . You saw that a shell had carried 
away one wheel so that the omnibus leaned over giddily 
on its side like a drunken man who has come to a stand 
still after a supreme effort. The old thing was painted a 
slate-grey, but you could still see the advertisements 
glooming out through the paint. The windows were 
broken and the weather had already begun its work. 
The omnibus was " huddling up like the things in the 
orchard ; but its front, you noticed, was towards the 
battle. . . . There happened to be a bend in the line at 
this place so that you were able to keep the omnibus in 
sight a long while, until, in fact, it had become little more 
than a black speck against the level green of the fields. 

The train stopped at Crepy en Valois, and so you had 
to descend and wait upon the station platform. Crepy 
en Valois is a little place of village street and villas. The 
villas stand in gardens, and they are built like the villas 
at Uxbridge with red tiles on their roofs. Most of the red 
tiles had been ripped away, showing the wooden rafters. 
And the walls of the gardens were broken down. In the 
fields beyond the gardens were more of the huddled 
things, and there was a horse or two amongst them. 
Men were moving about in the fields with spades burying 
away the horror from the eyes of men. They had little 
white crosses too, but they used them sparingly because 
there were not nearly enough of them to go round. 

On the platform of the station your travelling com 
panion, the Frenchman, made a discovery and took you 
into his confidence about it. You had noticed him pick 
ing up little things from the iron flooring of the platform 


and then rubbing these things between his fingers. He 
gave you some of them to examine, and his face was 
flushed and his eyes glowed with a light that might have 
been excitement or anger. 

" Look, Monsieur, at the confetti which I have found." 

The little things were square and thin like small pieces 

of black cardboard. They were very small as may be 

seen from the illustration. When you rubbed them 

13. Discs of nitro-cellulose carried by German 
soldiers for firing houses. 

between finger and thumb the black coating came off 
upon your fingers, which it marked in a shiny way like 
blacklead. The little discs were then seen to be made 
of a clear substance like celluloid, which bent very easily. 

" It is the confetti of hell," said the Frenchman. But 
you did not understand : you had not yet fathomed all 
the possibilities of this enemy. He grew impatient with 
your obtuseness. He took a match-box from his pocket 
and set light to one of the little black squares. 

In a moment there burst forth an intense flame that 
hissed and sizzled as it spread. 

The Frenchman replaced his match-box in his pocket. 
" Every soldier in the German Army carries a little bag 
slung to his waist-belt," he said. " In the bag are many 
hundreds of these little discs. And when he leaves a 
town he spreads them behind him so that the shell fire 


of his guns will not lack for fuel. It is the confetti of hell, 
Monsieur, is it not ? " 

You came from Crepy en Valois by Villiers Cotterets 
through the sweet autumn woods. It was a strange and 
memorable experience. All along the route death and 
destruction dead men, dead horses, villages in ruins, rail 
ways torn to pieces, telegraph wires scattered over the 
bare fields, here a transport waggon, abandoned, leaning 
giddily over the bodies of the brave men who failed to 
save and refused to leave it, farther on a reaping machine, 
its work half accomplished, beside the decomposing car 
cases of its team. The long road winds on interminably 
through the woods to the battle-field. The long road 
grinds under the wheels of vast transport trains and am 
munition waggons ; it is gay with song, the strange 
songs of marching infantry that are so grotesque when 
you write them down in cold blood, but so charged with 
magic when they come to you through woods and to the 
sound of marching; it is gay too with the jingle of bits 
and spurs as the cavalry regiments trot past towards the 

What sights this white road has discovered in these 
last days when the German host was fleeing northward 
to its sanctuary and the Allied Army drew swiftly upon 
its heels. 

And so you came to the river about evening when the 
guns were grown hoarse and the rifle shots sounded fit 
fully along the bank. It was the hour of relaxation, 
which even in war they have begun to recognise and call 
sacred. In the long, long silence you could scarce believe 
that here were the very lists of death, and that here 
through many days and nights the flower of Europe s 
manhood has been withered like grass beneath a hot sun. 


And then as you waited under the cold stars the storm 
burst again, grandly, along the valley. The flares threw 
up their sheeted flames, which were like lightnings over 
against the thunder of the guns. The roll of the thunder 
made the earth shake and tremble, and along the wind 
the fumes of " sulphur smoke 3 were carried hatefully. 
Also you heard the singing of bullets, which is a sound 
that sets a man s teeth on edge when he knows the cause 
of it. Ping-g-g-g-g," and you saw the nervous eyes of 
the searchlights seeking amongst the trees for their prey. 
And in the outer darkness among the trees fellow-men 
laboured unceasingly in the horrible work of death, 
selling good life against good life for the sake of home 
and country, for the impalpable things which make up 
the faith of a man. 

And so it has been during a whole week upon the banks 
of the river of death. 


IN Paris they are waiting and in Calais and Boulogne 
and Dunkirk. Day after day the vigil is kept, the 
vigil of a people that waits in feverish anxiety to learn its 
destiny. In Paris they say that the banks of the Aisne 
are a sure defence though they say it less confidently 
as the days go by ; but in the ports of the north they 
speak with no assurance at all for the gates of Calais 
and of Boulogne are open and there is no protector 
army betwixt these gates and the foe. 

The Channel ports indeed are helpless at this hour 
as a sheep in the hands of butchers. Only because the 
butchers are too busy to attend to this business is the 
sheep spared. To-morrow it will be otherwise. News 
of the Marne has indeed come to the ports, but it has 
echoed feebly because the old terror is still very live and 
actual. And every blow of the German against the 
Allied line along the Aisne banks echoes here with 
sinister reverberation. 

The Battle of the Aisne grows old and yet there is no 
decision : the line to Paris is cut and the great trains 
rapides no longer draw out of the maritime station at 
Boulogne : the English boats come and go delicately 
as though timid of their own boldness. The streets are 
deserted ; the hotels empty ; the roads without guards. 



You may hire a motor-car and travel as I did travel 
along miles of the coastline of Northern France, and 
there will scarcely be a village policeman to question 
your going. You may travel if you like inland as far as 
Lille and see for yourself the utter desolation of this 
stricken country for the days of the darkness have not 
yet fallen upon that great city. 

You are within four hours journey of London in one 
of the richest provinces of the world. You stand upon 
the very holy places of civilisation (as also of war) and 
lo ! it is desolation that surrounds you. The villages 
are largely deserted, though some hardy and determined 
men and women have clung to house and home against 
all the terrors and the threats. The roadways lie empty 
under the grey skies of autumn. A spirit of mourning, 
deeper than words can ever express, broods upon the 
fields and woodlands as though inanimate things were 
sharers in this horror of the world of men. 

At night upon the shore, usually so gay, you hear no 
sound save the falling of the waves, and perhaps the 
scream of a seabird. The town rises up blacker than 
a black sky ; strange ; lifeless ; afraid. . . . The long 
wind mourns upon its ancient pathways. 

And in the south the cities keep watch and the foemen 
-fall back exhausted from the banks of the river of blood 
that none may hold. The Battle of the Aisne is fought 
and finished : the Battle of the Aisne is proved a no-man s 
battle ; the dead lie upon the river s banks, young men 
and old men, piled high and heaped together, and it is 
said of them that their death has saved the world but 
not yet vanquished the enemy. 

How mournful now this river of a thousand hopes 
now, beneath the grey sky and the wind. In spite of the 


rain and the wind there are airmen still hovering over 
the carnage, as they say vultures hover. Only these 
vultures look for the living, not the dead. They scout 
ever above the heights and then, greatly daring, skim 
swiftly over the forest lands to the northward. The 
artillery thunders dully along miles and miles of front, 
shells bursting with monotonous regularity, each to reap 
its little sickleful of death. In the valley, along the 
marsh land beside the river, troops are being moved from 
place to place, moved over the dead men who are heroes 
and patriots no longer and who sleep stiffly with hard 
faces upon the meadows, where they came to death so 

Death . . . death . . . dead men, dead leaves, dead 
hopes . . . dead enthusiasms . . . the dead of three 
nations. . . . There are broken machine-guns, broken 
accoutrements, wasted material, shattered weapons. . . . 

And now the measure of the quarries is taken, and the 
measure of the men who hold them. This battle is all 
according to the plan to the plan formed in secret while 
yet men loved one another and were just and generous. 
Somewhere near by the river is a little valley protected 
by a wooded hill. Through the valley passes a roadway 
leading towards the heights. From the heights one looks 
across the river to the entrenchments of the enemy. In 
order to direct an accurate fire from across the river on to 
the little path (by which come supplies and foodstuffs) 
it would be necessary to have a signaller upon the hill. 
Yet there was no signaller upon the hill when the shells 
were tearing the little pathway to tatters. ... In days 
past the enemy had actually surveyed all the ground, 
even to the little pathway, against the chances of this 
day. As a Frenchman said to me concerning another 


question, " M sieur, it is a matter of elementary mathe 


And these peasants, too, who were so friendly in the 
early days, and who used to come to our lines with milk 
and eggs ? This old man, who dropped a coin behind 
yonder gun position and stooped twice to pick it up 
how came it that as soon as he was gone away the guns in 
the quarries opened fire upon that position and destroyed 
it ? This woman with the pretty white neckerchief 
what is she doing gathering firewood so near to the 
line of trenches ? And why does that airman dip so 
suddenly above the little wood where the artillery are 
lying hid ? 

But the battle which still goes on fitfully is ended as 
the end of a battle is reckoned. The decision that is no 
decision, has been come by. The Allies know now that 
this position of the enemy above the river cannot be 
taken by frontal attack. The grand sweep that was 
begun upon the lands south of the Marne has been 
checked. The Army of the Kaiser is once again menacing 
and dangerous. 

In Paris they speak the news sadly as men who have 
lost a good hope. The cafes of Paris are opening again 
upon the boulevards, and men are thronging them of 
an evening to discuss this battle which has come to no 
proper ending. You may see all manner of men in these 
cafes and listen to all manner of opinions. You may see 
strange inhabitants of the Latin Quarter mixing with 
soldiers who were their boon companions, and journalists, 
and politicians of the lesser order and men of business 
who have come to sell to the fighting nations all the 
necessities of war, from boots to barbed wire.- 

In this cafe, which you have visited a hundred times 


in the old days, you will hear to-night what is the view 
of the capital concerning the battle and concerning the 
progress of the battle. And if you are discreet, and have 
friends, you may receive a hint concerning the next move 
in the great game of war which they are playing so near 
at hand under the autumn skies. It is a hint which will 
set your pulses throbbing, and open your eyes to vast 
new possibilities. 

" Remember Antwerp," your informant whispers. 

There are good troops there and the strength of the 
place is a proverb. What a thorn that in the Prussian 
side ? I know that your Government will send troops 
to Antwerp to help hold the place. Then it will be to 
the northward that the battle will go. We shall rush up 
to the northward and surround them. Because of 
Antwerp they will not dare to extend their line to the 

sea. J 

A young fellow with a muddied uniform and the weari 
ness of battle in his face joins you and accepts a cigarette. 
He too knows of the great plan, though he will not speak 
much about it. " Your people," he says, " are on the 
move again." " Where ? " Ah, M sieur, how should 
I know ? We soldiers know only our little portion. But 
it is permitted to think. And you know the rule turn 
the enemy s flank if possible. The German Army has 
only one flank and that rests to-night upon the 
Oise. . . ." 

There is much life in the cafe in spite of the gloom of 
the hour. The air raids have whetted men s nerves and 
set the women laughing. It is easier to laugh lightly 
if there has been a spice of danger. So the glasses are 
clinked very pleasantly and the wine flows and tongues 
are loosed to recount deeds that already seem almost 


tame because one has heard them again and again with 
only the places and the names altered. . . . 

There is, sitting just opposite, a heavy man with a 
gross face and small bright eyes that seem to see every 
thing yet to keep themselves unseen. They are eyes which 
hide themselves in much fat, seeming to recede behind 
bloated lids which roll up bibulously in many folds. This 
fat man is a litterateur whose heart has spared him from 
the trenches for it is a bad heart physically as well as 
morally. And now he is pouring his scorn upon the con 
duct of the campaign in terse sentences that have a 
flavour of many cups. He speaks quietly though, so that 
only his admirers who surround him may hear for it is 
not safe to be very critical of the army in these latter 

And while he speaks a young lieutenant with a baby 
face and a big sword enters the cafe. His face is pink 
with self-consciousness, and his sword clanks bravely on 
the pavement beyond the door and makes a good sound 
on the wood floor, so that the self-consciousness of 
the boy is quickened with each step. A woman at a little 
table looks up approvingly and smiles and the boy blushes 
as he passes her. Other women from other parts of the 
room cast quiet smiles in his direction because they have 
noticed how handsome he is and how clean and boyish. 
But the fat man who criticises armies has seen him too, 
and has coined a phrase which seems to him so good that 
even his natural caution is intrigued by it. The phrase 
is spoken and Fate has made a silence for it, as Fate will 
do now and then when ill words are spoken in crowded 

You mark the boy stop and grow stiff suddenly like a 
beast which is wounded. You see the very hot blood 


surge under his fair skin. You see the swift glance which 
measures his critic and also assesses the effect of the 
criticism upon the company. You note the boyish 
hesitation which is altogether charming, and the boyish 
reluctance to become the object of public attention. 

The boy passes on : the critic mops his brow upon 
which the perspiration seems to have come quite sud 

And then an older man, in the uniform of the cavalry 
who has been watching and listening intently, rises and 
follows the boy and speaks to him in a low voice. The 
boy flushes and turns and strides back with the gleam of 
quick and nervous resolution in his eyes to the table where 
the critic is sitting. 

" What did monsieur say of me ? I challenge him to 
repeat it ! 5 

The critic of armies is pale now, and flabby and ugly. 

" I did not say anything," he declares. 

The boy steps back and fumbles with his pocket a 
moment. He has a card-case full of white, new cards. 
He throws a card down upon the table in front of the 
fat, flabby man of letters. 

The critic shrugs his shoulders : he does not accept 
the card. The people in the cafe have already scented 
trouble and are gathering round the couple with very 
eager faces. For most of them know the man of letters 
well and detest him. The women too are drawing close 
and are encouraging the boy with remarks which cannot 
be pleasant hearing for the critic. 

" You will not take my card," cries the boy, his voice 
growing rather shrill. 

" No, I will not. I am not a fighting man." 

" Then you shall have that, dirty coward 


And the boy strikes the critic across the mouth with 
his hand. 

There is a scene then in the real sense of that word, a 
scene in which men and women, soldiers and civilians, 
appear to become mingled together inextricably. The 
boy s voice rises above the other voice and it is saying 
ugly things, because the boy has lost his head a little, as 
shy boys will when they are embroiled in public demon 
stration. The women shriek their anger and contempt. 
They wave their arms and point at the literary man and 
laugh loudly and discordantly. 

When the fray has passed you do not see the literary 
man any more. 

But the boy is cooling down at one of the tables. 

And the women are looking at him. 

It is an incident, nothing more. But it reveals perhaps 
a trend which may achieve a destiny. France and her 
army are at one again, as they have not been at one since 
her army followed Napoleon into all the European 
capitals. Paris thinks in battalions once again as she 
thought during the magic years of her conquests. 

And in the pleasant valleys of the north the army of 
France is defending her once more upon the ancient 

The Battle of the Aisne is ended. The " battle of the 
left flank " or if you are thinking of the enemy s forces, 
of the right flank is about to begin. The " race for 
the coast is about to begin. Three armies are about 
to play the great game of attempting to outflank each 
other over one hundred miles of hill and dale and flat. 
History is about to witness the completion of a barrier 
of human flesh which when complete shall stretch from 
the North Sea to the Alps. 


This is the last "move" of the Western Front up till 
the time when these words are written (December, 1915). 
It is the last development of the campaign. The last 
thrilling episode before the game shall become fixed and 
formulated. The last link with the wars of other days 
when armies were not great enough to span whole 

The race-course, if you will permit the metaphor, is 
spread from the banks of the Aisne at Compiegne away 
northward across the green valleys of France by Albert 
and Amiens and Arras, through the " black country 
round about La Bassee and Lille to the bogs and fens of 
Flanders at Ypres, and thence by the Yser Canal, " the 
canal of blood," to Dixmude and the Yser River. The end 
of the race shall be run along the Yser river banks under 
the willow trees and amongst drear marshes until the red 
roofs of Nieuport on the sea and the spires of its fair 
Flemish church come into view and men halt or turn at 
bay upon the yellow sands of the North Sea, among the 
bathing pavilions of happier days. 

A race this of the giants, the prize of which is the world, 
it may be. ... A race like no other in all the history of 
war and of warfaring ... by the side of which the 
greatest achievements of antiquity are grown small and 

Understand the measure of it or you will fail to appre 
ciate its significance. Here are two armies facing one 
another upon the two sides of a river. They have fought 
for many days with the most extreme desperation ; they 
have lost many men ; they have exhausted all the meagre 
possibilities of strategy. The truth, that neither side can 
win this battle, has been forced upon them. 

Both the armies have one flank protected and one 


flank exposed. The German Army has its right flank 
exposed, the Allied Army its left. It has occurred to 
both sides simultaneously that he who can turn his 
opponent s flank may win this drawn battle. The reward 
for the enemy if he shall turn the Allied flank is Paris 
and the sea coast from Ostend to Havre Dunkirk and 
Calais and Boulogne, and so the Channel and the coast of 
England. The reward for the Allies, if they shall turn the 
German flank, is a broken offensive and a liberated France ; 
and after that the freedom of Belgium and a campaign, 
perhaps, upon the banks of the Rhine. 

Big stakes these if ever there were big stakes in the 
world. He who wins this race will win such a victory as 
history holds no record of ; he who loses may well lose 
all that he holds dear. Can you wonder that every nerve 
was strained and every effort exhausted in the mighty 
task, or that men accomplished that which man s judg 
ment would have pronounced impossible in the days when 
the call of freedom w r as but a little voice ? 

The race began towards the end of September, and on 
October 8th General Foch was near Amiens. To General 
Foch had been given the command of all the armies 
of this northern flanking arm. Sir John French was in 
the north too with his army, v\4iich had been fetched 
from its positions on the Aisne River with a speed which 
is surely a record in the story of rapid movements of 

How that movement was accomplished is too long a 
story to tell here, but some day the full account will be 
written for the satisfying of British hearts. It was a 
movement of a night, swift and silent and very sure. It 
was a movement by rail and by road, excellently well 
planned, excellently well accomplished. In it the London 


street omnibus played a leading part. Men who saw it 
have told me that it was strangely thrilling, so silent, so 
swift, so expeditious was it. 

" In the dead of a dark night the great vehicles rolled 
and pounded along quiet roads under trees already grow 
ing bare towards the winter. The men sat silent inside 
and outside, strange passengers upon a strange enter 
prise ; you could hear only the rhythm of the engine and 
the gritting of the wheels upon the road. The villages 
when you came to them slept, and there were no lights 
in the cottage windows. But sometimes a dark figure 
would be seen standing in the street to watch this mid 
night race of armies." 

" How exhilarating too in the darkness, with lights out, 
this rushing to win a world and this knowledge that even 
as you were rushing to win so also was he, your enemy: 
that it was a real race you were engaging in, fraught 
with real destiny, and determined by the most urgent 

But if we would consider this mighty race in detail we 
must first take account of the battles that were fought 
in the days of its beginning for the race, as has been 
said, arose in the first instance because two great armies 
were endeavouring to turn each the other s flank. 

Let me express it in another way and by a simple figure. 
Two streams of water running in opposite directions 
meet one another. They bring each other to a standstill. 
The force of this impact causes them to overflow to the 
side and so a resultant stream flows away at right angles 
to the original streams. Or we may regard it as it is 
shown in the accompanying diagram as a series of 
battles accompanied by a series of rushes to reach the 
next battle-field before your opponent. 


The first battle, then, was joined on the flats between 
the Oise River and the Somme River. The date was 
approximately September 21. The French were under 
General de Castelnau, and they succeeded at first in 
taking the town of Noyon. Then they advanced against 
von Kluck s right, across this long stretch of country, 
which is the birth-region of four of the greatest rivers of 



14. How the opposing armies raced one another to the sea. 

northern France the Oise running south to meet its 
tributary, the Aisne, and to fall into the Seine below 
Paris ; the Somme running westwards to Amiens and 
the sea at Abbeville ; the Scheldt, to the north, running 
northward to Belgium and Antwerp ; and the Sambre, 
to the east, running eastward to Namur and the 

There was a three-days battle here, the object of 


which was of course to threaten the German lines of 
communication by way of St. Quentin to Maubeuge and 
the east. It is called the Battle of Albert, and it was 
desperate even amongst desperate encounters. The 
losses were very great, but the progress recorded was 
but small. Once more it was seen that a frontal en 
counter, these days, offers small prospect of success to 
either side. The battle ended in stalemate and the line 
was built up a little higher towards the northward. The 
race had begun. 

While the Battle of Albert was being fought other 
troops were hurrying northward. This point must be 
borne in mind. For not only had we a series of battles, 
we had behind the battle-fields a series of races going on 
simultaneously with the fighting. It was seen that all 
the battles would be won together if only the flank of 
the enemy could be turned ; if only one could get round 
behind his lines, so to speak, and attack him from behind 
at his vital spot his lines of communication. 

So the race went on, becoming ever more and more 
furious in its pace. On September 30 de Castelnau s line 
was extended northward by the addition to it of the 
6th French Army under General Maud huy. This new 
force possessed some cavalry, and this again moved 
northward to operate in the difficult country towards 
the sources of the rivers Lys and Yser. 

Lille was still in the hands of the Allies. The great 
Manchester of France with its network of railways and 
canals and its forts, with its vast accumulation of wealth 
and of the means of producing wealth clothing and 
arms and railway stock was an asset of almost priceless 
value. One could travel to Lille from Boulogne in these 
days, or at least in the days of the Battle of the Aisne. 


But the danger to Lille, now that the great rush had 
begun, was clearly of the most extreme character. 

That danger was, indeed, apprehended ; but it was 
not possible to guard against it effectively. It was not 
possible to send reinforcements to the town in time 
because it was not possible to withstand the onrush of the 
foe and to drive him from the region of Douai and La 
Bassee. Lille was doomed because the battle fought by 
Maud huy s Army at Arras did not result in victory. 

The first runners in the race had now reached Flanders 
and were at grips amid the waste of the canals and flats 
and among the willow trees of this sorely vexed land. 
They were cavalry for the most part, and they fought a 
strange kind of guerilla warfare about which very little 
has been heard, because it was only the prelude to the 
gigantic struggle which was about to begin upon these 
same fields. The cavalry-men worked in small detach 
ments according to a rough plan of campaign which was 
improvised largely to meet the needs of the situation, 
and the object of which was to hold the enemy s cavalry 
in check and prevent a new cloud of the dreaded 
" Uhlans from sweeping down over northern France, 
taking possession of the undefended channel ports, and 
thus endangering the lines of communication. 

This is a warfare, though, the usefulness of which is of 
the first order, the last cavalry warfare of the Western 
Front for long, long months and scarcely a cavalry war 
fare at all in the strict sense. The bands use their horses 
only to bring them within reach of the enemy. Then the 
horses are tied up beside some deserted farm-house and 
the soldiers creep away to shelter among the reeds and 
marsh of the canal banks. They lie concealed in these 
ungracious places during long hours, or they creep for- 


ward like hunters on the track of dangerous game. 
Through long days and chill nights they carry on this 
strange " amphibious warfare, losing no chance of 
dealing a blow at the vigilant enemy, and exposing them 
selves to all manner of risks and dangers. 

And the enemy must needs play the same game on his 
side, so that the early warfare in these Flanders marshes 
is like the old Fen warfare of our history ; a bitter affair 
of wet and mud and cold in which men die hard in a 
still land that is very silent as it has not been silent these 
hundred years in a land of long, long distances and 
great sunsets, where the heavens are spread over the 
earth like a cloak and the spires of a dozen village churches 
rise up upon every horizon, dark, among the dark willow 

The race is nearing its end now, and so far neither side 
has won it. The British Army, under General Smith- 
Dorrien, is at Bethune and is struggling already towards 
the fatal height of La Bassee soon to be writ in blood 
across the pages of our history. In the forest of Nippe 
to the north our cavalry is engaged in driving the enemy 
to the eastward. Antwerp has fallen, and the Belgian 
Army is reeling back across the good country by Bruges 
and Ostend towards the Yser, so that the gap between the 
southern armies and the sea may be closed up. 

It is the hour of destiny, the moment of ruin or salva 
tion. But the fates are still propitious, though the cir 
cumstances are wellnigh desperate. The Belgian Army, 
broken and battered, yet holds its courage in strong hands 
and casts defiance in the face of its foe. Nieuport is 
gained and the line of the Yser held. Red blood stains 
the waters of this river so soon to run with the blood and 
to be choked with the bodies of thousands. The line 


rests at last upon the sea. The race is lost and yet won, 
for the enemy too has lost it. Antwerp has not given 
him the victory which he expected of it ; his hosts have 
not laid their greedy hands upon the coveted channel. 
The wall of flesh is builded about him from sea to Alps. 
Henceforth he must throw himself day and night against 
this inexorable barrier. 

But the days of his strength and fury are not yet 


IT is October 19, 1914. To-day the race for the 
North Sea, the race with destiny, has ended. To 
day the last gap in the human wall has been closed up. 
You may travel to-day from Belgium to Belfort and yet 
never pass from this most hideous battle-field. Like 
cords the lines are stretched out facing one another, and 
here the cords are thick where they have massed troops 
and there they are thin where the line is held lightly. 
But the battle-field stretches on from horizon to horizon, 
a shambles without limit or boundary, like a streak of 
blood across the good face of the earth. 

The fall of Antwerp was the event which added the 
last strands of this cord and bound the forces warring 
among the slag heaps of La Bassee to the Yser river and 
the coast. The fall of Antwerp was thus perhaps not 
wholly for evil, though it released a large body of the 
enemy for service elsewhere. Thanks to their own 
heroism, the Belgian soldiers were able to " make good 
even in that extreme hour and by their dogged courage 
to save the last remnant of their country from the 
jaws of oppression. 

The position on this October day was therefore critical 
in the extreme. The enemy had been baulked of his 
immediate object, which was not so much the seizing of 



the Channel ports as the crumpling up of the Allied 
Army. He had failed to outflank the Allies. He had 
failed to pierce the line they built up against him. 
He saw before him an unbeaten foe who had indeed 
fought with success at Albert and Arras and was full of 
determination to oppose any advance even to his last 
man. The Germans beheld the beginning of the fortress 
warfare they desired so ardently to avoid. They deter 
mined, at all costs, to break down that iron wall, divide 
the army of their opponents, and win their way to the 
Channel and the capital. 

And they had reason to suppose that this project was 
well within the bounds of possibility. Lille had already 
fallen and the great railway junction of the north was 
in their hands. The height of La Bassee famous in 
the history of all wars in this region was also theirs. 
Moreover, the fall of Antwerp had put new heart into 
their forces and had, so they thought, struck terror into 
the spirits of their enemies. The Belgian Army was 
indeed in ill plight, its commissariat disorganised, its 
hospital supplies scattered to the winds. The Belgian 
soldiers were utterly weary with long marchings and 
bitter strivings. They had reeled southward under the 
fierce blows of their pursuers, and they had come to the 
banks of the Yser dazed with the ordeal through which 
they had passed. 

What a scene that was the coming of the army of 
Antwerp to the frontiers of Belgium, to Fumes and Dix- 
mude and Nieuport ! " They came," a Belgian officer, 
who saw them, told me, " like men in a dream in a 
nightmare. They were smothered in mud, their faces, 
their eyes, their hair. Many of them were wounded, 
and their wounds had scarcely been dressed, so that you 


could see the blood dried upon them. Many of them 
were sick and moved with difficulty along the dreary 
flat roads between the willow trees. All of them held 
such a gaze of wonder in their eyes as made a man cold 
to look upon. These were the eyes of the dead, of those 
who have passed beyond the reach of care or pain or 
anxiety. These men had indeed lost touch with the 
world ; anxiety and hardship, and strain and shock, had 
robbed them of their very souls." 

They came to Furnes by way of Pervyse and the road 
which crosses the Yser near that pretty village ... a 
terrible pilgrimage of sorrow, slow and without cheer. 
A pilgrimage moving, as it seemed, at last toward rest 
and safety which beckoned through the mists of a suffer 
ing scarcely to be endured. 

But rest and safety were yet a long way off. 

At Furnes these men learned those of them who were 
able to apprehend that urgent necessity demanded yet 
greater sacrifice of them that they must turn away 
their eyes from the hope of rest and refreshment and 
must set themselves once more against the terrible enemy 
who was pursuing them hotfoot. 

In short it was made clear to these Belgian soldiers 
that only their bodies stood between the German and 
his goal Calais and the Channel ports. If they failed 
at this supreme hour all would be lost. The enemy 
would pour down into northern France and attack the 
Allies from behind as well as from in front. The Allied 
Armies would be surrounded and cut in two and the 
doom of the Western campaign would be sealed. 

The line of the Yser River is from Nieuport on the 
sea, inland, to Dixmude. Between Nieuport and Dix- 
mude there are but two bridges over the waterway 



one at St. Georges near Nieuport and one by Pervyse, 
about half-way. This latter bridge crosses just west 
ward of the spot where the Yser River makes a bend to 
the northward to form a loop (boucle) that is like a salient 
thrust up to the north-east (see map). 

Of this boucle, or loop, history will hold long record, 

15. The battle-field of the Yser. 

The Yser River was held by the Belgian troops after their retreat 
from the city of Antwerp. 

for it was here, as we shall see, that the fiercest hours of 
the battle of the Yser were passed. 

It was this line of the Yser that the Belgian Army 
was ordered to hold at all costs in these mid-October 
days. The line of the Yser was the last great defensive 
line before Dunkirk was reached, and Dunkirk was vital 
to the Allied arms. The line of the Yser, too, was the 
last of the defensive positions in Belgium that remained 


to Belgians. If even a single scrap of their country was 
to be saved they must keep this line against the advancing 
and menacing cohorts of the foe. 

What a gallant rally it was that they made, these weary 
war-worn men, amongst the willow trees and the wind 
mills of their dear Flanders ! Forty thousand men, 
scarce able to stand many of them from sheer fatigue 
and against them 60,000 of the picked fighting men of 
Germany, refreshed and rested and eager. This indeed 
was the story of Liege over again, and with added glory 
for in the forts at Liege men at least were fresh and un 
wearied. It was again one of the great hours of history 
when the impossible and the unexpected are accom 
plished by sheer doggedness and courage. 

With the Belgian Army was the King of the Belgians, 
the most heroic figure in the history of this war. 

The Germans delivered their first great attack on 
October 18 very early in the morning. They delivered 
it along the coast, close to the shore, because they believed 
that the narrow strip of sand between Nieuport and the 
sea was the least well-held position of all the long line 
of the Yser. The Belgian Army, they calculated, had 
not yet had time to spread itself out to this part. This 
was therefore the open door which should admit them 
to the ports of the Channel and enable them to bring 
discomfiture on the Allies by means of an attack in flank. 

Their assault began with a heavy shelling of Nieuport, 
which was to be followed up by an advance in force 
of the infantry. The Belgians held the little town 
which has been laid siege to so often in history, yet 
never taken by any besiegers and the Germans ad 
vanced against it with the object of securing possession 
of the bridges. The Germans were under von Beseler ; 


de Moranville commanded the Belgian troops. The 
Germans came to the assault furiously, expecting to 
sweep away very easily this feeble people and to push on 
without delay to the coveted land southward. 

They came swarming as usual and in vastly superior 
force," a Belgian staff officer told me* one night when 

I visited the Belgian Head-quarters at . " They 

threw themselves against our people and thought to 
sweep us away by mere weight. But they had reckoned 

1 6. The narrow strip of sand between Nieuport and the 

sea along which the first attack was delivered. 

Note the British warships (monitors). 

without one factor, which was to play a great, a very 
great, part in the battle. . . ." 

" Your warships monitors -had steamed in over 
night and were able to open fire upon the exposed right 
flank of the enemy." 

You can have no idea how bitter was that surprise to 
men who had believed themselves already conquerors. 
The shells from the big guns burst amongst them and 

During a visit to Belgian Head-quarters, I had the great advantage 
of a complete and detailed description of all the Yser fighting at first 
hand. I was able also to traverse the ground. 


devoured them. Again and again they were forced back. 
The little door they would have opened there, upon the 
dunes, had been nailed shut in their faces, and they were 
without the power to retaliate or to protect themselves. 53 

These monitors indeed, little grey ships, like " river 
steamers gone mad," as I heard it phrased, are saving 
France, and England too, under the grey skies of this 
October morning. They are bringing deep confusion to 
the enemy and deep thankfulness to the sore-tried men 
who stand so staunch for duty along the yellow sands 
while their beautiful little town is torn to pieces in their 
sight, and what was so lately a scene of peace and happi 
ness is turned into a maelstrom of death and damnation. 

Night falls, and now the battle is joined along all 
the river way by the famous boucle to Dixmude. Along 
all the river the great guns are belching their fury and 
steadfast men are facing them with a resolve which con 
quers the utter weariness of the flesh and makes men 
god-like in their triumph over material things. The 
flares leap up in the darkness, filling the long spaces of 
the night and lighting a thousand pools and waterways 
with their white flame. It is as though the world were 
paved with innumerable mirrors. 

The battle grows sterner and more stern as day 
succeeds day and there is yet no decision. Will those 
over-weary men never yield them ? Already they have 
accomplished, surely, the full measure of man s endurance. 
It is Friday, October 23, and the gate by the way of the 
sands remains fast closed as it was after the first attack 
a week ago. To-day the enemy seems to despair of this 
passage, which has cost him already thousands of picked 
men, and which has cost Belgium her beautiful town of 
Nieuport, now a ruin terrible to look upon. He has 



transferred his main attack to a point further inland, 
beyond the reach of the terrible gunfire of the ships. 
It is the village of Ramscappelle that he covets now and 
that he will pound to ruins in his bitterness. 


1 7. The second German attack was against Ramscappelle village on the 
railway. The town of Dixmude was held by French marines. 

So, on this Friday, a night attack is launched across the 
Yser at St. Georges, and a mighty rush made along the 
country lane towards the Dixmude-Nieuport railway at 

This attack is bitter with the bitterness of anger and 
baulked determination. Here at any rate there are no 


naval guns, but only tired and beaten men to be faced. 
And so here they will achieve an easy victory. 

The hours of that fight are written now, each one of 
them, upon the pages of history. The Germans crossed 
the river : they hurled the Belgian defenders back 
through St. Georges to the railway. They secured pos 
session of the railway. And at the same time they began 
to launch their attacks against the town of Dixmude to 
the eastward. That fighting for Dixmude was amongst 
the most fearful of the whole war. Through all the night 
of this black Friday in October attack after attack was 
launched against the valiant Frenchmen who held the 
place, launched and pressed home and hurled back again. 
Dixmude resisted the attacks and held the foe at bay. And 
at Ramscappelle the men who had succeeded in reaching 
the railway were hurled back again across the river. 

" That effort," said my informant, " was as dangerous 
as the first effort along the shore. Had they taken 
Dixmude then we should have been undone, because 
they would have burst through in all probability, and 
our army would have been rolled up from the flanks 
made by the bursting. But because the town was held 
their efforts were brought to nothing. 3 

But the bitterness of death was not yet nearly passed 
for these gallant soldiers of Belgium. The darkest hours 
were to come. There remained an ordeal terrible as the 
ordeal of Antwerp and critical as the Battle of Ypres 
itself. The " men with the dead faces had to suffer 
and endure through long days yet and long nights which 
were cold of mercy even as the days. 

History will bid future generations contemplate these 
men, the remnants of the army of Antwerp, and hold 
them in everlasting honour. History will say that hope 


deferred the hope of a little rest after experiences 
calculated to shake the morale of the finest troops did 
not make their hearts sick ; that their hearts were strong 
even when hope seemed dead beyond possibility of 
resurrection. History will tell how they stood in their 
trenches they and their young King shoulder to 
shoulder, against the terrible Wurtembergers who 
poured against them in vastly superior numbers, and 
how the Emperor of Germany himself stood far off to 
view that glorious stand. Men will say that if they had 
laid down their arms, there, in the bitter trenches beside 
the Yser River, it would have been only the natural failing 
of tortured flesh unable to endure further, and men s 
eyes will brighten and their hearts beat quick to know 
that there was no surrender, that the weakness of the 
flesh was less than the zeal of the spirit. 

It is now Saturday, October 24 a day of rain and 
bitter wind. The crisis of the Battle of the Yser has come, 
and the fate of the battle is in the balances. To-day shall 
see the greatest attack of all the attack upon the two 
sides of the loop in the Yser River, delivered simultane 
ously, and delivered under the eyes of the German Kaiser 

" That was our supreme moment of trial, as you will 
see if you regard the map. 3 

I regarded the map a great map unlike any other 
which I had ever seen. The fields were all marked 
upon it and the dykes and the hedges. The finger 
of the officer beside me pointed to the loop in the 
river, and then he made a half-circle with his finger 
and thumb, shaping them like a pair of pincers around 
the loop. 

" They thought," he said, " to pinch our force which 


was holding the loop and cut it off. You will judge how 
nearly they were successful. 

" At Schoorbakke they made a fearful assault, drove 
our men back and crossed the river. The river is 
canalised and so the crossing was a most fearful 
business. But they drove our people back. They 

German forces 


Yscr /?. 

1 8. The German attempt to surround and " pinch " the loop in the 
Yser River. The last German attack of the Yser battle. 

crossed also at the other side of the loop, and so our 
men in the loop were subjected to fire from three sides 
and also to the pinching process at each angle. The 
enemy swarmed across at Schoorbakke eight thousand 
of them crossed. It was hopeless to hold the river against 
them and we were forced to go back. And next day, 
Sunday, a whole army of 18,000 men was across the 



Yser and was advancing through the fields towards the 

" But our men disputed this home soil of Belgium inch 
by inch. They fell back because the numbers against 
them were overwhelming numbers, yet in the meadows 
they found cover to lie and shoot, and behind the dykes 
and among the marshes. The French had come to our 


r Germans 

19. The great final assault upon the loop in the Yser River 

(Oct. 24, 1914). 

help, and they fought side by side with us with most 
splendid heroism. We were truly an army of scarecrows, 
of vagabonds, but we had the good courage of our cause and 
of our home love. In the village of Oude-Stuyvekenskerke 
we made a great stand among the little gardens and the 
houses and behind any sheltering walls that were avail 
able, and the enemy found his advance across these 


sodden fields, with their bogs and ditches, no easy one. 
He had plucked the fruit, so to speak, but the eating of 
it was bitter. 3 

Bitter indeed ! For now, though the Belgians have 
fallen back to the Nieuport-Dixmude railway, they are 
fighting with a stubborn determination which seems to 
have undergone no abatement. The weary warriors 
have achieved a new strength ; the strength of a new 
rage seems to possess them. Every inch of ground they 
yield is bought and paid for in German blood before it is 
delivered up and only sheer weight of numbers pre 
vails to conclude the bargain. All along the meadow 
lands from Ramscappelle to Pervyse the work of slaughter 
is continued. The bitter meadows grow rich with good 
blood, and the bodies of men are piled up beneath the 
pollarded willows. 

Yet the uneven conflict cannot much longer be drawn 
out between these vigorous troops under their Em 
peror s eye and these sodden and bedraggled men who 
scarce know how they fight and who are " grown too 
tired even to run away," as they say themselves so lightly. 
The strained line of the Yser defence is strained now to 
the very breaking point. To-night or to-morrow at 
the latest to-morrow the strained line will burst asunder 
and throw open the gateways of victory to the hosts of 
the foe. 

It is the hour of destiny and upon the decisions of this 
hour the fate of nations is hanging. For Belgium has 
left to her one last resource, which in her history she has 
used only in the very extremities of her need. Shall she 
call once again upon the waters to cover her ? Shall the 
flood gates be opened once again to lay a barrier betwixt 
this enemy and his goal ? 


It is a question very hard to ask, bitter as death to 
answer. For these fields are amongst the richest in a 
fair province, and the waters have been expelled from 
them only at the price of long, long endeavour and 
infinite patience. Shall that work of the good days be 
undone now in this hour and these riches gleaned by the 
thrifty hands of men be scattered to the floods ? 

But indecision is impossible, for already the enemy is 
at hand. Better the loss of these lands than the breaking 
of the line of defence and the ruin of defeat. . . . And 
so, with infinite reluctance, but with swift resolve, the 
order is given. The Yser is dammed and the floods are 
let loose upon the land. 

" Your monitors made this possible to us, because they 
allowed us, under cover of their guns, to close up the 
canalised river near its mouth. 3 

On Wednesday, 28th October, they dammed the river 
and the waters rose upon the good land. The Yser was 
swollen with rain, soon it spread itself across the meadows, 
soon the hosts of the Kaiser were wading knee-deep in 
the marshes and the great guns were immovable in the 
lanes. The weary men breathed themselves as they 
watched the saving tide, and the Allied artillery swept 
the face of the waters, scourging them with its fury. 

The battle ebbs even as the tide rises, but there are 
grim doings amongst the pools and swamps these days 
of the flooding. Wednesday the fight goes on and 
Thursday and Friday. The enemy perceive now that 
their victory is slipping away out of their hands. . . . And 
so, on this Friday, across the wet fields, another last 
attack is launched towards the stricken villages towards 
Ramscappelle and Pervyse and the railway from Nieu- 
port to Dixmude. 


One of my friends was in Pervyse during the whole 
period of this attack, and he has told me the story of it. 

The shells, 53 he said, " were crashing into the village 
as thickly as hailstones. Every moment another house 
came crashing to the ground, blown asunder as by a 
fierce blast of wind. Stones and woodwork were hurled 
about the streets, and men rushing about their business 
were cut down before your eyes. The walls of the 
beautiful old church, which stands on an eminence be 
tween the village and the station a few hundred yards 
away, were thrashed down to the ground, the altar rent 
asunder and the furnishings torn to pieces and scattered 
over the tombstones in the churchyard. Even the graves 
themselves were desecrated and the bodies of the dead 
were hurled from their resting-places and profaned 
hideously. The village was burned up in the tornado 
burned up and beaten down and razed to the ground, 
and the good work of patient men became a mockery 
even while you waited. ... It was hell let loose upon 
the face of the world. 3 

" And all this within the confines of a little country 
village, where the milk trains used to stop of a morning 
to gather the produce of rich farms and smiling meadow 
lands. . . ." 

At Ramscappelle this last attack through the rising 
water was partially successful. The enemy seized the 
village on this Friday and held the railway once again. 
But on Saturday Belgians and French drove him out 
again and swept him back into the abyss of the 

For now the waters are coming swiftly over this land 
about the Yser River, since they have opened the sluices 
of all the rivulets and of all the canals that intersect this 


area like a close meshwork. The waters are rising as a 
great tide rises, so that where the green fields were spread 
there is now but a field of turbid flood. And in the flood 
the attackers of Ramscappelle and Pervyse are struggling 
for life that they may win back whence they came. They 
are struggling horridly in the deep places among their 
guns and their gear, which they shall use no more 
upon this earth made hideous by them, and their hands 
are thrust up desperately out of the brown waters for 

But where shall salvation be found for these men ? 

The big guns at Nieuport and along the railway by 
Ramscappelle and Pervyse are telling out the doom of 
this entrapped and engulfed army and speeding the 
labours of Death among its numbers. The big guns are 
shelling the broken troops as they go herding together 
to death among the bogs and ditches which they cannot 
see beneath their feet. The day is filled with the horror 
of their undoing, and already their ripe bodies are being 
carried by upon the tide. Under the pollarded willows, 
which rise up out of the flood, you may see their bodies 
clumped together grossly, like garbage the bodies of the 
would-be conquerors of the world. 

And under the night the waters creep up, sucking 
greedily amongst reeds and rushes ; the waters come 
again to their ancient fields ; they are glutted with a good 
feast upon their ancient fields. You can hear the lap of 
the waters upon the ground, and it is like the sound of an 
animal lapping blood. . . . But the good waters and the 
good guns between them have saved this day. They 
have barred the way to Calais and to Paris. They have 
frustrated once more the designs of the foe under the 
very eyes of their Emperor. 



Upon the islands which the flood has spared and which 
rise up out of the flood like the isles upon a great lake, 
the enemy has gathered as many of him as have been 
able to come to these islands out of waters. Upon the 
islands the guns are hurling their shells now that the 
work of destruction and defeat be made sure. At Pervyse 

20. The Belgians, as a last resort, opened the sluices 

and flooded the battle-field of the Yser. 

The area of the flood is shown. 

and at Ramscappelle they are building trenches to ensure 
a strong defence, and the waters have come up almost 
to the trenches. The danger is passed away. Dixmude, 
which was the key of the defence a few days ago, matters 
little now, for it has been held splendidly through the 
critical hours by the gallant Ronarc s marines. The 


enemy will take it at last (10 November), but it will be 
of little use to them when taken. This waste of water 
is indeed destined to be the boundary betwixt invaders 
and invaded during long, long months, in which the face 
of the world shall be changed and the tide of human 
suffering and human grief shall flow, even as the Yser 
tide, without limit and without restraint. 


THE Battle of the Yser was one of four great battles 
which were fought at the same time (October to 
November, 1914), against the same enemy and with the 
same object. The four battles were fought that the 
coast might be saved and that the Allied line might be 
preserved unbroken. 

The Allied line stretched now (October 20) from the 
sea to Switzerland. But along all this line there was 
comparative peace, except in the area covered by the 
western end of it an area measuring upwards of 100 
miles and extending from the Belgian coast down to 
the River Aisne. 

If you will glance at the diagram you will see the 
placing of the four battles and how the beginning of one 
was the ending of another and you will be able to realise 
how near these battles were fought to the object and 
prize of victory so near that in Calais they heard the 
guns of the Yser distinctly during many days and nights. 
Had the Germans broken through at any of the four 
points the Allied line would have been rolled up and the 
whole history of events changed. Had they broken 
through at Arras the Allied Army in the north would 
have been cut off from the Allied Army in the south, and 
would have been driven in upon the Channel ports or 



forced to surrender. Had they broken through at La 
Bassee, the road to Boulogne would have been open to 
them. Had they won victory at Ypres, there was the road 
to Calais. Had they been able to seize the coast line at 
Nieuport, Calais would have fallen within the twenty- 
four hours. 

S E1A 


21. The four Battles for the Coast (Oct. to Nov., 1914). 

Note how one battle is joined to another 

along the line. 

So that all these battles were critical, as we have seen 
that the Battle of the Yser was critical, and it is almost 
impossible to say which was the more and which the less 
critical. Victory on the Yser and at Ypres would not 
have availed against defeat at Arras. Nor would victory 
at Arras and La Bassee and Ypres have atoned for defeat 
suffered upon the yellow sands between Nieuport and 
the sea. It was necessary to hold all the line all the time 


or to accept what must have been disaster and might 
have been utter catastrophe. 

If this knowledge is kept in mind these battles which 
are so difficult to understand of themselves will become 
quite clear. They will be seen to be, in fact, parts of 
the one great battle in which the three Allied Armies 
took equal share, and in which all the three armies won 
an equal glory. They may be regarded simply as a series 
of four doorways the first held by the Belgians on the 
Yser ; the second by the British under Haig at Ypres ; 
the third by the British under Smith-Dorrien at La 
Bassee ; and the fourth by the French under Maud huy 
at Arras. 

The story of the Yser has already been told, and how 
well the Belgians kept the faith upon that river of woe. 
The stories of La Bassee and of Arras deserve no less 
careful telling. Thanks to the accident of report these 
great engagements have been too little heard of in this 
country, where all attention has been concentrated upon 
Ypres. Men speak of " The First Battle of Ypres " as 
though this alone was the critical struggle. It is well 
that they should remember also Arras and be not forget 
ful of La Bassee, and that the waters of the Yser should 
be ever present to their minds. 

The Battle of Arras began on October 20, when the 
enemy advanced in force against this famous old town. 
Up to this time, as we have seen already, Arras had been 
safe against many assaults made to the north of it in the 
direction of Lens. But now the threat was against the 
town itself, and the people of Arras realised that once 
again the terror was come upon them. The people of 
Arras, who had lived through the horror of the great 
Retreat and the joy of deliverance after the Marrie, 


before them once more only bitterness and exile and 

" The town was relatively quiet, however," one of 
my friends who remained throughout the battle told 
me shortly afterwards. " The people had grown used 
to the sound of the guns by this time and heeded it little. 
The sound of the guns was continuous, so that you heard, 
as it seemed, one long-drawn roar like the ravening of a 
wild beast. I went out into the fields before the town 
and watched the battle so much of it, that is, as a man 
was able to see. From the spectacular point of view it 
was a strange and wonderful sight. You saw first of all 
merely the green fields which seemed strangely empty 
and quite peaceful in spite of the roaring of the guns. 
But presently in front of you a great cloud of black 
smoke would rise up into the air, as though it had been 
loosed from the very bowels of the earth. The cloud 
would rise till it seemed like a pillar of smoke set upon 
the plain, black and solid and menacing. And then the 
winds seemed to come upon it and tear it asunder and it 
was scattered. 

" A Jack Johnson," sir. . . . 

" In the middle distance was a little coppice, and now 
over the tree-tops you saw a strange blue-green fire that 
flashed suddenly with an angry reverberation. This was 
shrapnel bursting and beating down upon the troops 
lying concealed here. As you waited you began to learn 
the meaning of the various sounds that came to you 
shrilling through the din. The long, siren-like tone 
of the great shells, the shriller note of the shrapnel 
* ve-e-e-e-e-e, and the shrill screeching of bullets. 

"And then suddenly came the knowledge that these 
quiet fields were indeed visited of death, and that danger 


lurked in every footfall. It was a strange experience. I 
felt exactly as anybody would feel the moment after he 
discovered that he was in a field with an angry bull. 
Every instinct of mind and body prompted flight. But 
there came, also, with that feeling a sudden hardening 
of the muscles, a temper upon the edge of resolution. 
I looked back where the towers of the city rose up 
beautiful even in this hour of destruction, and I thought 
of the men who were selling their lives for the sake of 
these towers and of all they signified for France, for the 
world. A great happiness came to me that I was able to 
be joined to them here among the fields and to witness 
the struggle that they made so splendidly for victory. 5 

But the fate of Arras trembles now in the balances, and 
the people of the city are making preparations to flee 
away from it. The women and the children are already 
passing from the doomed streets where the shells are 
casting down the houses and filling the roadway with 
debris of all sorts. The wonderful clock tower of Arras 
has been hit already and is being reduced to ruin, so that 
the memory of it shall be linked with the memory of 
Rheims and of the Cloth Hall at Ypres through all ages. 

It is again the ancient pilgrimage of sorrow that we 
have seen in the streets of Brussels and in the great square 
before the station, that we have followed through the 
good lands of northern France by Amiens to the sea, 
that we have beheld under the moon and the stars in 
the Fontainebleau Forest while yet the issue of the Marne 
remained in doubt. The procession of the dispossessed 
of the poor who have lost their all, of the women who 
must face a hard and changed world without protector, 
without even the slim protection of a home, of the 
children in whose eyes a great fear lingers and who ask, 














W u 

C/2 --; 

IC-4 -J2 













wistfully and without hope, why it is that all this misery 
and destruction is come upon them. 

Who but the years shall answer the questions of these 
children of the stricken lands of France and Belgium 
and now of Serbia ? Who shall tell them all the sum of 
the infamy which made this thing possible in a clean 
world, and gave over the portion of honest men to the 
dogs of greed and hatred ? 

The citizens of Arras are fleeing away by the long 
road to St. Pol, and the walls of the Hotel de Ville, with 
its clock tower, are crumbling to ruins. It is the fatal 
24th of October, the Saturday of terrible memory, upon 
which so many mighty deeds were wrought along this 
far-flung line of defence. Upon this day, at this hour, 
the Wiirtembergers, under the eyes of the Kaiser, 
are preparing them for their greatest assault upon the 
loop in the Yser River that shall, they believe, give them 
all this northern France for a prize ; on this day the 
salient at Ypres gave way under repeated blows and a 
British regiment was hurled back from a position defended 
by it with gallantry unequalled in all the history of war 
fare ; on this day at La Bassee a furious assault threat 
ened the whole line and drove a regiment of famous 
name from its trenches. It was a day of fiercest trial, of 
most heroic achievement, the crisis day perhaps of two 
out of the four battles, certainly a crisis day in the wider 
sense in the history of Europe and the world. 

In Arras they do not know whether or not it will be 
possible to save the town. My friend has told me 
that at one time hope was wellnigh abandoned, so deter 
mined and so terrible was the onrush of the foe. But 
the courage of the French troops of Maud huy never 
wavered. With that stoical and splendid courage which 


the weary soldiers of Belgium were even at this hour 
displaying upon the banks of the Yser they fought every 
inch of the ground against von Buelow and his horde of 
savages, and at length held him and his savages in check. 
Then to resistance was added attack, and the grand 
Frenchmen who had saved their town from the feet of 
the invader made it secure against his further effort. 
The French went forward from Arras, driving the enemy 
in front of them. They swept the fields clean and 
hurled back the huge siege guns out of range of the city. 

22. The British line when the Battle of La Bassee began. 
At that time we held the Aubers Ridge and also Neuve Chapelle. 

They made the Battle of Arras a victory and a defence 
even as the Belgians and the French upon the Yser had 
made victory and defence with the flood gates of the 

But at La Bassee the struggle was still raging, and 
British troops under Smith-Dorrien were still sore put 
to to hold the doorway entrusted to their keeping. La 
Bassee is the gateway to Boulogne on the one hand and 
to Lille on the other. This high ground is indeed famous 
in all the history of European wars, and many times have 
its fields been drenched with the blood of fighting men. 



The high ground of La Bassee is succeeded, if one 
goes northward, by a valley with a road running through 
it and also a railway, and to the northward again of the 
road and railway is another high ground on which are a 
string of mining villages Lorgies and Aubers and 
Herlies. They speak sometimes of this second high 
ground upon which are the mining villages in reality 
outskirts of Lille as the "Aubers Ridge." The "Aubers 
Ridge," then, looks across the valley to La Bassee (Figs. 
I and II). 


V <*V> 


c* 1 * 

^.,r/ N 


La fra&aeo He.igh<- 
La Basse<? 

23. I. The La Bassee Height 
and the Aubers Ridge. 


II. Diagram showing how the 
valley leads to Lille. 

This height of La Bassee was indeed impossible to 
wrest from the enemy. Sir John French said of it that 
it had " defied all attempts at capture either by the 
French or the British." So the British attack against 
the German positions (seeing that attack is the best 
method of defence) was made, as it were, along the crest 
of the " Aubers Ridge by Neuve Chapelle and Aubers 
towards Herlies. Aubers fell on October 17 to the 
9th Infantry Brigade, and under cover of night on the 
same day the Lincolns and the Royal Fusiliers took the 
village of Herlies at the point of the bayonet. 

It was at this point that the counter-attacks of the 
enemy began along the heights and that the British force 


came to realise how terrible was the magnitude of the 
force arrayed against it. These little pit villages, dirty 
with the smoke of a hundred chimneys, became the scenes 
of bloody encounters destined to echo through the world. 
They became precious beyond the powers of imagina 
tion if one considers the toll of life expended in the 
taking and holding of them, and in the counter-attacks 
and defences that were made within their boundaries. 
Nor has the whole price exacted been paid even up till 
this hour. For here within a narrow radius are Neuve 
Chapelle and Festubert and Aubers, and, to the south, 
Loos. And across this grime-stained land is still stretched 
the long line of khaki that for upwards of a year has been 
seen in this terrible region. We shall yet hear these bitter 
but splendid names again ere the story of the great war 
is closed, and upon these rolling lands about La Bassee the 
toll of life will yet assuredly mount higher before the 
whole drama is played to its end. 

Of that awful fighting among the brick-fields and the 
mean dwellings of the pit men and factory hands I have 
heard innumerable tales, which are too many and too 
like one another to set down here. Village street fighting 
became a commonplace, and the red hands of destruction 
were placed upon a thousand small homes that indeed 
were swept away. The line of battle oscillated for days 
within narrow limits, at one time being pushed east 
wards by our army, and at another being thrust to the 
west. At the end, the salient which had been thrust 
forward by us as far as Herlies was driven back again 
and the line flattened out until the village of Neuve 
Chapelle was left in the hands of the Germans. 

But the line held in spite of all these changes, and the 
door to Boulogne was not opened. In Boulogne during 


these October days men spoke fearfully of La Bassee and 
of the splendid deeds being wrought there among the 
slag heaps, and sometimes it seemed only too clear that 
the limits of resistance had been reached. But each tale 
of disaster was followed by another of great, of wonder 
ful heroism. " The line holds," men said who had come 
down from the shambles. " Thanks to the finest soldiers 
who ever shouldered rifle, the line holds against most 
fearful odds." 

But reinforcements were needed to assist these wonder 
ful soldiers who laboured day and night among the grime 
and soot north of La Bassee. The fact that the enemy 
still held the La Bassee height made the operations ten 
fold more difficult and tenfold more costly. The price 
we paid for that unbroken line was terrible, almost 
beyond belief. It was essential that new strength should 
be added to the weary arm and new force given to the 
reiterated blow. New strength and new force happily 
were at hand. 

" On the 24th October," wrote Sir John French, " the 
Lahore Division of the Indian Army Corps, under Major- 
General Watkis, having arrived, I sent them to the neigh 
bourhood of Lacon to support the Second Corps." 

So that this Saturday, 24th October, is memorable in 
yet another way, because it saw the coming of the Indian 
troops into the firing line of the West and the triumphant 
and final vindication of British rule in the great Overseas 
Empire. On this day there was sealed the pact between 
East and West, between Briton and Indian, which is the 
most splendid victory of all the victories of our race. 

" Oh East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet 
Till earth and sky stand presently at God s Great Judgment Seat. 
. . . But there is neither East nor West, Border nor Breed nor Birth, 
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the 
ends of the earth/ 


The Indians soon showed their worth in the firing 
line, and great was the comfort which their coming 
brought to the sorely pressed British ranks. For indeed 
at this time the fighting had reached the very height of 
its desperation, and the Bavarians under their Crown 
Prince, were casting their all into the fiery furnace of 
assault. The whole of the " Aubers Ridge " was in 
the hands of the enemy, and from the low heights he 
could direct his artillery upon our positions. The foul 
land was strewn with dead and dying, and from behind 
the bodies of their dead both sides made bitter war upon 
one another. The " La Bassee gate seemed to be 
strained to its very utmost, but it still held shut against 
the flowing tide of assault. Behind it Britons and Indians 
stood side by side, and side by side laid down their lives 
for England and for England s union with India. 

The gate of La Bassee, like the gate of the Yser and 
the gate of Arras, was " banged, barred, and bolted." 
There remained in doubt only the great gate by the 
city of Ypres, across the frontier of Belgium. 


" Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more, 
Or close the wall up with our English dead ! 

THE last of the four battles for Calais and the coast 
was fought at Ypres, and is known now throughout 
the whole world as the " First Battle of Ypres," because 
in the spring of 1915 there was fought upon these same 
muddy fields another encounter of as great desperation 
and ferocity. 

The first Battle of Ypres was " a battle of hanging 
on," it was a battle in which one man faced five men 
and was able to hold five men at bay ; it was a battle of 
endurance rather than of wits, of dogged courage rather 
than strategy ; it was and remains the greatest battle 
in the whole history of British arms. 

It is not the purpose of these pages to attempt any sort 
of description of this battle, though the material for 
description was plentiful enough behind the lines at 
the time when the battle was in progress. The object 
is rather to focus attention upon the splendour of the 
achievement and the wonderful heroism of the common 
soldier, regular and territorial, to whom the victory of 
Ypres is wholly due. 

But to understand the position it is necessary to realise 
the factors which led up to this terrific engagement. It 
is necessary to know, for example, in what manner the 



" Ypres salient was formed, and how that salient 
became the crucial factor in the situation. 

The original intention had been to push up north 
from Ypres towards Bruges, and so divide the German 
lines just as the Germans hoped to divide our lines. So 
a move was made to the north-east along the railways 
leading from Ypres to Roulers and Ypres to Bruges. 

But these moves soon disclosed the fact that the enemy 

24. The famous " salient " at Ypres. The heavy line represents 
the British force at the beginning of the battle. 

was here in overwhelming strength, and that defence, not 
attack, was certain to be the order of the day. 

The Ypres salient was a bulge in the line opposite the 
town. If the letter D be taken and regarded as a 
rough-and-ready diagram, the battlefield of Ypres will be 
sufficiently well understood. 

The danger point to the north was of course the angle 
between the bulge and the straight line, and the same 


type of danger point existed to the south. At the 
northern angle the country was flat with the exception 
of one small hill near Bixschoote, which was vital to the 
defence of this angle (Hill 17). At the southern angle 
a substantial ridge raised itself near the villages of 
Hollebeke and Zillebeke one of the mounds of which 
was the famous Hill 60 of the spring campaign of 1915* 
(Hill 60 was not spoken of particularly during the first 
Battle of Ypres, as the main fighting was somewhat to 
the north of this particular eminence.) The region of 
Hill 1 7 to the north, then, and the ridge culminating in 
Hill 60 to the south, were the bastions in the line of the 
defence of the Ypres salient. They enabled the country 
round about to be reconnoitred, they formed advan 
tageous artillery positions, they were points of strength 
in a line weak beyond all the ordinary margins of safety. 

The British 1st Army under Sir Douglas Haig had 
reached the line which was to become the Ypres salient 
on October 20. Next day, October 21, the battle proper 
opened with a fury that was surprising. Those who had 
come to attack found themselves forced to defend, and 
very soon realised that this defence was likely to become 
one of the most desperate and one of the most momentous 
in all history. 

There are four distinct phases in the Battle of Ypres, 
the recognition of which affords an opportunity of gain 
ing some little idea of its magnitude. The first of these 
was the "phase of pure attack"; the second the phase of 
attacks directed chiefly at the angles of the salient and 
especially in the area of the lower or southern angle ; the 
third the glorious counter-attack of the British Household 
Cavalry, which undoubtedly saved the southern aspect of 
the salient ; and the fourth the supreme phase when the 


Prussian Guard, under the eyes of the German Emperor 
delivered their terrific attack along the Menin Road. 

It is yet early in the battle and the first phase has but 
begun upon these lean fields under the towers of the 
Cloth Hall of Ypres. The enemy is pressing hard against 
the point or outmost aspect of the salient near the little 
hamlet of Gheluvelt, on the road between Ypres and 
Menin. The fighting here is bitter, without any relief 
such as war has been wont, of past years, to afford. War 

25. The D-shaped salient of Ypres. Note the 
Menin Road and Gheluvelt village. 

in these ditches is robbed of all her glory and rendered 
dull and hateful and drab. 

Yet out of this drabness there is surely emerging 
a newer and a finer glory, while Britons are stand 
ing at bay amid the grime and mud of sodden fields, 
under a lashing hail of fire and with five times their 
own numbers advancing against them. There is surely 
a finer glory in the manner in which regiment after regi 
ment is dully selling its life for the foul trenches which 
it will neither abandon nor yet yield. 

And in the steady slaughter which goes on night and 


day during all this time there is at least the spectacle 
of utter devotion of a devotion which has discounted 
life and which regards the shadow of death as a thing 
inevitable, near at hand, and, it may be, presaging long- 
awaited rest. 

For the spirit of the fields of Ypres is not the spirit 
of these great " one-day battles " of old time. Nor is it 
the spirit of the Battle of the Marne, when autumn days 
were young and the ripe apples hung heavy in the 
orchards. It is a spirit in tune with the grey skies and 
the drab world and the driving rains and the mist the 
spirit of "dull holding on" of bitter knowledge that 
a man s life is completed in the sum of a man s duty. 

A doctor, who fell wounded here, and whom I count 
among my friends, told me of this phase of the battle 
that it was indeed the unchaining of all the forces of 
death. " Men, 3 he said, " gasped with horror and sur 
prise at first, because no man had guessed what it would 
be like to take part in a drama of pure slaughter carried 
on hour after hour and day after day upon so great a 
scale. But in the end men grew accustomed even to 
this thing and hoped only that it would be possible to 
hold on. That was the one thought, the one prayer, 
the one cry, Shall we be able to hold on ? : 

It is clear, is it not, that many times during these 
days holding on is becoming a ludicrous impossibility. 
Every day the weight of the German forces grows heavier 
and more heavy the exhaustion of our British soldiers 
more complete. " Ypres at all costs," is the watchword 
of the German lines, and no effort not even the most 
desperate and costly will be spared to capture the town. 
The German regiments are on the move from earliest 
dawn to late evening. The hissing and screeching of 


their shells is a perpetual torment. The roar of their 
artillery is never hushed. 

And within the gates of Ypres at the council table 
anxious men are discussing the chances of salvation as 
those discuss who know how pitiably low are the resources 
in their hands. They do not need to tell one another, 
these men in high command, that this line of the Ypres 
salient is unsupported and undermanned, that behind 
it there are no considerable bodies of troops to fill up 
the huge gaps made by the guns, nor that if it breaks 
the way to the coast will lie open and easy before the 
victor. These things are self-evident here, in the city 
of the weavers, behind the salient of death. They can 
ask themselves and each other only one question for 
there is only one question of any import at this moment 
" How long can the British soldiers hold on, and against 
what odds ? 

A complete answer to that question must be awaited ; 
but there is no need to wait for evidence bearing upon 
the case. Even now on this Sunday, October 25, the 
men in khaki are reeling under blows so terrific that it is 
indeed wonderful that men are found to withstand them. 
Along the southern aspect of the salient, as we have 
seen, the enemy has massed a great force, with which he 
is determined to seize the high ground about the canal 
and railway and so command the communications of 
the forces fighting within the salient (see Fig.). This 
force advances through the wooded lands about the 
slopes of the heights and in the area of the Menin Road. 
And so bitter is the fire with which it heralds its coming 
that for a moment the British regiments exposed to the 
chastisement are forced to yield ground. 

These weary men reel back, death and anguish upon 


their faces, and with shouts of triumph the German 
rushes forward to complete his advantage. 

But how short-lived the triumph ! Reinforcements 
are hurried up reinforcements literally torn from 
another part of the line the Blues of splendid memory. 
There is a fierce encounter in the trenches, there, to the 
west of Zandvoorde, and the enemy are driven back once 
more, and once more a fleeting respite is won from the 
reluctant hands of fate. 

26. The Germans desired bitterly to win the high ground to the 
south of Ypres and thus command the lines of communi 
cation within the salient. 

A soldier told me that the impression he had of these 
advancing Germans was " the impression you have when 
you kick over an ant heap." They seemed to come out 
of the ground on every side just like the ants, and it was 
useless to kill them, because for every one that you killed 
there were five others ready to kill you. 

So the battle rages day and night around this salient 
a nightmare of attack and counter-attack, of shock and 
terror and alarm, of bravery shining like a light amid 
darkness, of wonderful tenacity that is vindicating for 


all time the qualities of the men of the Anglo-Saxon 
race, of sheer strength of will and of purpose that over 
rides every obstacle, defies every menace, conquers every 
difficulty. Who, indeed, will ever tell the whole glory of 
the fields of Ypres ? Who will sing that saga of brave 
men as it should be sung so that the strains of it echo 
to the very stars ? Ypres is more than a place name of 
our history ; Ypres is more than the most splendid and 
the most bloody of our battle-fields. Ypres is the new 
altar of our nationhood, red with sacrifice ; the covenant- 
shrine of a new Britain builded by the hands of those 
about to die, sanctified by their agony, embellished by 
their devotion. Ypres is holy ground, the supreme 
sacramental place of our nation. 

The first act is played and for a brief hour there is 
respite across the fields of the dead. Then again they 
ring up the curtain of flame, and again the Angel of 
Death unsheathes his sword. The enemy have returned 
to the attack with new vigour and new spleen. They 
are upon every side, and upon every side the strength 
of the blow seems to be overwhelming. Here is the 
pinching movement of the loop of the Yser and the 
battering-ram movement of the Retreat from Mons com 
bined. They swarm from the northward by Pilkem and 
Bixschoote, they swarm from the south along the fatal 
road that leads to Menin, they swarm from the east 
along the railway between Ypres and Roulers. The 
whole broad breast of the salient the D that defends 
the city is assailed and threatened. It is as though all 
the human ant heaps in the world had been emptied in 
the same hour. 

If you will glance at the diagram you will see the nature 
of this mighty attack. But the ferocious character of it 


can be expressed in no diagram nor in any words. The 
cost was not counted, nor the expense in life, nor the 
price in human anguish. The hail of shells ceased not 
day or night, the shrieking of the bullets was wide-cast 
as the shrieking of the tempest wind. The coming of 
fresh cohorts to fill the place of the fallen was like the 
outpouring of an unmeasured tide. It was as though 

27. The great general attack on the 
Ypres salient. 

they made a bite at this salient of Ypres with poison 
fangs, meaning to swallow it whole in their fury ; or 
grasped at it with iron hand to seize and crush it utterly. 
The stand of the 7th Division during these days 
belongs now to the pages of history the story of how 
they held apart those terrible fingers which clutched at 
the very throat of our defence, at the throat of the army, 
at the throat of England. At Gheluvelt during these 


days (October 29-31) trenches were lost and won again 
at the bayonet s point, and strong men held their breath 
to watch the miracle charges that stemmed the tide of 
assault and withered hope even in the hour of fruition. 
The slopes of the rising ground near the south angle 
where canal and railway issue from their deep cutting 
were stormed again and again, and once more the fate 
of this deadly south angle hung as by a hair. Should 
the enemy come to the canal and secure all these heights 


28. The German grasp on the Ypres salient, October 31. 

(we call them " heights ") the days of the defence of 
Ypres would be ended. 

But though the fierce artillery fire has driven our men 
from some of the slopes, the progress of the foe is im 
peded and stayed. Not even the stern encouragement 
of the Kaiser s supervision can drive these green-coats up 
the wooded slopes to victory on this Friday in October 
when " the British people is being saved amid blood and 
mud and horror." The night falls at last, lowering but 


gracious, and for an hour or two there is rest perhaps, 
leaning up against the soaking trench sides and with 
feet and legs deep immersed in the liquid ooze of the 
trench bottoms. But with the dawn breaks all the fury 
once again. 

What a dawn this, of the day, Saturday, October 31, 
the fiercest day of all the days of the Ypres battle, and 
the most critical. On this morning man may well ask of 
man what shall be the issue and whether the hope of 
hanging on be vain or not. For now redoubled strength 
seems to have come to the foe, while the ebbing tide of 
our resources makes even the boldest afraid. We are 
bankrupt in everything except honour. 

They came again, up by the road from Menin, which is, 
indeed, the Via Dolorosa of this pilgrimage of death. 
Up towards Gheluvelt they came, the village of a hun 
dred battles. Whole regiments are cast into the fire 
before them, and in the fire are consumed like chaff. 
It seems as though there is nothing that shall stand 
against this onslaught. 

Away to the rear the brains of this German machine 
are throbbing with high hope, while the nerves of 
those who direct the opposition to it grow tense with 
apprehension. . . . " How long will the British soldier be 
able to hang on against those fearful odds ? . . . The 
trenches are undermanned, there is but this line, and 
after it nothing at all nothing until the coast is reached 
and the goal of the Channel ports. And the line how 
thin it is how far outspread how hopelessly, ludi 
crously insufficient ! . . . Surely it is a stronger thing 
than flesh and blood which wrestles there among the 
dirt and the mire against these impossible odds ! . . . 
The men who watch and plan and wait experience, as 



the hours go by, a strange exaltation of spirit like the 
uplifting of the morning upon dreadful night ; for they 
know they believe that the supreme miracle is in 
process of being wrought that the impossible is being 
translated into the real that victory even now is being 
accomplished out of the ready materials of disaster. 

There is the Menin Road to clear and the village of 
Gheluvelt to win again from the myriads who have 
swarmed into it. The bloody highway must run yet 
redder with good blood, the battered houses must once 
more be assailed and taken. . . . Eager men, who have 
already forgotten all their torment of weariness and 
anxiety, are ready to accomplish this purpose, awaiting 
only the order to set to work. The order is spoken. The 
Worcesters are up and at them like the Guardsmen of 
Wellington at Waterloo. The conquerors of Gheluvelt 
reel under the mighty blow, and the sickle of death is 
thrust in again deeply upon the road to Menin. Ghelu 
velt is won and the Menin Road lies clear. 

But that is but the fringe the bare fringe of the 
mighty events which have made of this day a crisis-day 
in our history. On this day also General Moussy with 
his 9th French Corps was holding the danger area at 
Klein Zillebeke and reinforcing his shattered lines with 
cooks and scullions with every man upon whom he could 
lay his hands that salvation might be snatched from the 
teeth of doom. 

On this day also the cavalry was fighting bitterly in 
the woods south of Hooge, helping to clear the enemy 
out of them. On this day our Indian warriors fought 
side by side with Allenby s Cavalry to the south by St. 
Eloi, and an Indian gunner Sepoy Khudadad won the 
Victoria Cross. On this day in the Head-quarters at 


Hooge, before Ypres, and just behind the fighting line, 
Sir John French was with Sir Douglas Haig, through 
what he himself described as " the most critical moment 
in the whole of this great battle." He wrote, and his 
words are worth quoting in extenso : 

" I was present with Sir Douglas Haig at Hooge 
between two and three o clock on this day, when the 
1st Division was retiring. I regard it as the most 
critical moment in the whole of this great battle. The 


29. The danger area at Klein Zillebeke held by General Moussy 
with his " army of cooks," and later the scene of the charge 
of the Household Cavalry. 

rally of the 1st Division and the recapture of the village 
of Gheluvelt at such a time was fraught with momentous 
consequences. If any one unit can be singled out for 
especial praise it is the Worcesters." 

Thus closes the second phase in a flood of glory, and 
thus is justified the belief which every Briton cherishes 
concerning the armies of Britain that they are true 
even to the gates of Death. 

But the drama is not yet played out, the price of 
" hanging on not yet fully exacted. There remain 


if we pass over the intervening days with all their store 
of bravery and devotion the day of the 6th of Novem 
ber and the day of November nth. The day of the 
British Household Cavalry and the day of the Prussian 

The story of the Household Cavalry at Ypres is the 
story of the saving of the danger angle of which so much 
has already been said the angle by Klein Zillebeke, 
north of the canal from Ypres to Commines. Against 
this angle the enemy, on this Friday, launched one of 
those thunderbolt attacks which caused my friend, who 
faced so many of them, to speak of the overturning of an 
ant heap. The ants swarmed up again towards the coveted 
ridge at Klein Zillebeke which commands the city of 
Ypres and the communications of the army within the 

The thunderbolt attack succeeded in a measure, and 
the French who held this point fell back. They sent 
the Household Cavalry to stiffen the French resistance 
the ist and 2nd Life Guards, with the Blues in reserve. 
It was like sending thunderbolt to meet thunderbolt. 
But then " suddenly the French returned at a run, 
reporting an advance of the Germans in strength. General 
Kavanagh doubled a couple of squadrons across the road 
to endeavour to stem the rush and suffered a certain 
number of casualties in so doing. Considerable confusion 
ensued, and there was a melee of English, French, and 

Out of this melee^ like lightning out of a cloud, was 
developed the charge which saved the position and per 
haps the city as well. The Guards do not yield, it is 
their tradition to conquer or die. And so this splendid 
body the very flower of England s chivalry prepared 


to leap again against their foes and to avenge the transient 
success which had been wrested from them. It was 
surely a case of noblesse oblige in the finest interpretation 
of that idea. Wearied though they were, and mud- 
bespattered and sore tried, they hurled themselves 
grandly against the close ranks of the enemy, and the 
day was given to them, as it seemed, out of the very 
hands of God. 

The battle grows old upon the plains of Ypres the 
Battle of " Hanging On," which is the new wonder of 
the world. The flood of attack has wellnigh spent itself 
against this terrible barrier that is so frail yet so elastic, 
so thin yet so impenetrable. Wave after wave, waves of 
living men, has been broken asunder until hope is grown 
a-weary and confidence has become cold. 

Yet there must be enacted a final scene, since the eyes 
of the War Lord are upon his soldiers. What the Guard 
of England has accomplished the Prussian Guard can 
accomplish also and in fuller measure. The day of 
victory, long deferred, shall yet be hasted and the fruits 
of victory garnered. 

And so Wednesday the nth November disclosed a 
strange sight about the dawning, when the light stole 
dimly along the bitter stretches of the road to Menin. 
Here surely was burlesque within the very arena of 
death a spectacle of disordered minds, the apotheosis 
of overweening vanity. In the dim dawning of this 
November day the Prussian Guard upon the road from 
Menin are showing the goose-step to their astonished 

What a scene that for history to dwell upon. The 
long, long fields, peopled with the dead of three nations. 
The pollard willows weeping by a dozen misty streams. 


The dank smell of the trenches, and the terrible sucking 
sound of the mud upon boots and legs. The voice of the 
wind, dismal, among the trees far away and just visible 
in this pale glimmer of light the towers of the ancient 
city rising up like a benediction. 

And along the roadway this prancing column with 
stiffened knees and pointed toes dancing heavily to death. 
Brave men indeed, and iron discipline but can the 
mind of free man contemplate them without amaze 
ment that is near akin to ridicule ? If a man must 
go to death let him go easily. Our soldiers gazed in 
astonishment, scarce understanding what they saw, and 
then on a sudden the hail of shells was unloosed upon 
the Prussian Guard, and the work of butchery was 

They came by the road from Menin the road that 
is paved with the bodies of the brave and cemented 
together by their blood, and though their sublime 
courage carried them through the lines of our army in 
some places it was upon the road from Menin that they 
perished. The guns pounded them, the bullets mowed 
them down, the bayonets drank of their blood. Broken 
and withered they were cast back again the remnant 
that remained to the feet of their Imperial Master, 
whose behest they had so signally, yet so nobly, failed 
to accomplish. . . . 

The Battle of " Hanging On " is ended, and the long 
winter comes bitterly to the plain before Ypres city, where 
in other days good husbandmen prepared the soil over 
against the coming of spring. Another husbandman has 
these fields now in his keeping, and his harvest is rich 
under the weeping skies. . . . But in England, across 
the narrow sea, they will speak of this plain of Ypres 


while yet a Briton draws his breath ; and the glory and 
the wonder of it, are they not writ for ever upon the 
scrolls of man s devotion ? 

" The tumult and the shouting dies, 
The captains and the kings depart. 

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice, 
A humble and a contrite heart. 

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, 

Lest we forget, lest we forget." 

" TOMMY " 

" O ! it s Tommy this, an Tommy that, an * Tommy, go 

away ; 

But it s * Thank you, Mr. Atkins, when the band begins 
to play." 

THE four battles for the sea are ended, and the wall 
is builded against the coming of the terror. Of 
the young bodies of men they have built this wall and 
the stones of it are bound, stone unto stone, by the 
noblest blood in all England. Behind the wall the 
affrighted cities rest in safety ; behind the wall the 
husbandman returns to his task and the peasant to his 
cot ; behind the wall the world is rebuilt and men 
breathe themselves and look again toward the future, 
and are joined again to the number of those who possess 
the world. 

We sit in a little hall, under an arc lamp which bears 
upon its white shade the name of the German maker ; 
in front of us is a fish pond wherein three goldfish 
move perpetually through a labyrinth made of concrete 
and sea shells, and adorned with fern plants of sickly 
growth. Upon the walls are the calendars of shipping 
companies, showing great steamships riding upon im 
possible waves, and the advertisement of a brand of 


" TOMMY " 265 

cigarettes which takes the form of a picture of a 
French marquise of the great days strolling amid flower 

In the hall there are a few British officers, a few 
Belgians, some war correspondents, and some French 
doctors attached to the health department of the 
town. We are sitting at a little table after dinner 
and there are coffee-cups on the table and a box of 
chessmen. But the chessmen have not been in use 
these many days, and who knows why they are always 
placed in readiness for the game which does not 
come ? 

We are a mixed company men of many types and 
professions, but there is with us a man who has come 
down from the Ypres battle this very day, and it is to 
him that we are listening as perhaps we have never 
listened before in our lives for this is the first of the 
news of Ypres which has come to us from the very 
trenches of Ypres themselves. 

Our informant is a soldier whose name is very well known. 
But he speaks to-night not of the great men of this battle ; 
he speaks to us of one man only, who is the one great 
man of the battle, though he is known under many 
distinguishing marks. He speaks to us of "Tommy," 
and he lingers upon that name fondly, as though it holds 
for him a world of gracious and sacred memories. He 
repeats it very often, and often when he repeats it he 
smiles. Sometimes if such a thing were possible 
you imagine that his voice is a little shaky when he 
speaks this mundane British name that is half a jest in 
itself. His eyes are bright anyhow, and his face is 
keen with the keenness of a father who regards a gallant 

266 TOMMY 

" Tommy," he is saying, " is wonderful beyond all 
the wonders. He is the miracle that has happened ; the 
impossible thing that has come to pass. He is alone in 
his greatness and there is nothing like him upon the face 
of the world. 

" Who won the Battle of Ypres ? Tommy ! Who 
confounded the plans of the enemy ? Tommy ! Who 
brought confusion to all the wise men who knew be 
cause it was a case of knowing in all seriousness that the 
defence of the city had become a wild impossibility ? 
Again Tommy ! It was Tommy s own battle this and it 
belongs to him only. There are good generals and great 
leaders and heroic officers we have all of these but 
without Tommy what are they ? When the hour of 
hours seemed to have struck, when even the most san 
guine were giving orders which should safeguard the 
retreat of the guns, what was Tommy doing ? Tommy 
was driving the enemy from the captured village of 
Gheluvelt and hurling him back down the road to 
Menin ! And so the orders that were to safeguard 
the retreat must be countermanded, because forsooth 
Tommy had been first with his own orders the 
orders that a man dies at his post but does not sur 
render it. 

" Do you realise what this battle has been ? It has 
been pure murder prolonged over days. It has been the 
holding by one man of five men, and the five men have 
had a gun power behind them better in every respect 
than that behind the one man. You talk of a line . . . 
but what you mean is a series of single men with a gap 
of twenty yards each side of them, with no supports 
behind them, and with all the ingenuity and all the 
ferocity of the greatest army in the world before them. 

" TOMMY " 267 

When the enemy came against Tommy he came in droves, 
in solid masses, and attended by all the keenest and newest 
weapons of war. He came against lads who knew little 
of warfaring after this pattern, the lads standing twenty 
feet apart, tired to death, unsupported, unrelieved. It 
was like a hurricane sweeping down upon a castle of 

" Until it had happened. . . . 

" They tried the goose-step and they tried their singing, 
and they tried a hell of fire that seemed to devour the 
very earth and threaten to crack the floor of heaven 
as Tommy said but they did not impress Tommy in 
the very least. Tommy stood in the trenches and ridi 
culed them even in their most solemn moments. He 
called the Prussian Guard a " bunch of waiters to their 
faces, and he begged them to bring him a " Scotch and 
soda, waiter, please ! 3 even while he mowed them down 
or was mown down by them. To have seen Tommy 
in these hours is to have no fear for the future. A race 
which can breed Tommy can rule the world must rule 
the world. At the very height of the battle, when things 
looked blackest, Tommy s cheerfulness overflowed and 
his heart sang. He invented a limerick which ran along 
the trenches like the news of a great victory : * 

" * There was once a young fella of Wypers 
Who was hit in the neck by the snipers ; 
He made such a noise 
That the Allemand boys 
Thought they were in for a charge from the pipers." 

" In the most desperate moments Tommy s good 
nature and his joy did not desert him. In one trench 

* This limerick has been printed in some newspapers. I can vouch 
for its origin as stated. 

268 " TOMMY " 

where fourteen men had fought their last fight the 
fifteenth stood, bleeding, among the bodies of his 
comrades to light a cigarette. The relief party coming 
to his help saw him hold the French sulphur match 
with an expression of great disgust and heard him say 
in tones of reproach, * These matches will be the death 
of me yet. 

" The plain of Ypres has been mapped afresh by 
Tommy with his inexhaustible store of nicknames. He 
nicknames everything and everybody, and most of all 
the men he trusts and loves. When the sun shines he is 
a terror full of grumble and complaint, and the men 
he loves have the worst of his temper and suffer bitterly. 
But let the rain pour and the floods come and Tommy s 
humour grows mellow as good wine. He is easy to handle 
then and splendid to control he is the truest, the 
bravest and the most devoted of friends." 

Can you doubt the truth of this eulogy in face of 
the stories of the Marne, of the Aisne, of the fields 
of Ypres ? If still you doubt its truth, see again that 
scene by the chateau of Hooge, when Sir John French 
and Sir Douglas Haig walked together upon the Flanders 
road on Saturday, the 3 1st October, about two o clock of 
the afternoon, waiting for news of the battle. See the 
horseman who dashed up to them at full gallop with 
report that the battle line was broken and the enemy 
about to advance upon the town. See the preparations 
that were made to save the guns, and see the populace 
of Ypres streaming out by the western gates of the city 
in full flight. . . . And then cast your eyes where the 
Worcester Regiment is throwing itself into the death 
struggle to save the day and selling life thriftily that the 
line may be held intact. This is Tommy at his very 

" TOMMY " 269 

grandest, when he rises above the mere stature of a man 
and is joined to the heroes who go easily in the high places 
of the battle. 

And come now to the hospital wards of the Hospital 
City and see how Tommy bears the pains that are come to 
him because of his devotion. The Hospital City is busy 
these days as never before it has been busy in all its 
history. Feverish activity prevails upon every hand. 
All day and all night the long trains are coming to it 
from the battle-field, not the trains of cattle trucks 
which came to Amiens from the plains of Mons, but 
luxurious hospitals rolling easily upon their springs. The 
trains are crowded to overflowing, so that doctors and 
nurses know not where to begin in the mighty task that 
has been so suddenly forced upon them. All manner of 
men are here, and all manner and degree of injuries. 
There are the dying and the sorely wounded whose last 
fight is fought, and the less severely wounded who hold 
their courage in both hands that they may bring cheer 
to those more severely afflicted than themselves. And 
those who die, die splendidly in the bare stations or in 
the hospitals that are only just opened and have not yet 
been furnished die indeed as " Tommy has taught 
the world how to die ; " with a stiff lip, unless indeed 
the lip be bended in a smile." 

What a scene of activity the old town of Boulogne 
presents, and what changes are in process. Here they 
are converting the gay Casino into a vast hospital, and 
already the floors of the great salons are thronged with 
stretchers ; there a huge hotel is being rebuilt inside 
so that wounded officers may be housed comfortably 
in it. The streets are full of ambulance men with 
their red-cross brassards, and a long line of motor- 

270 TOMMY 

ambulances moves perpetually between the station and 
the hotels. 

This is not the Boulogne of the Mons days, when all 
was gaiety and hope and good courage ; nor is it the 
Boulogne of the bitter days and nights of the Retreat, 
when fear of the impending doom gripped every heart 
as in a vice. It is not the city that lay naked to its 
enemies so that the streets stood empty and all the 
hotels were wide and silent. It is a new city, engendered, 
it would seem, of a new purpose. 

That was splendid the devotion of the battle-field. 
But this devotion, though unarrayed in grandeur of 
effect, is not less splendid. These terrible wards with 
their never-ending spectacle of woe, are indeed the 
battle-fields of a more holy warfare. They too demand 
all that a man has to give of love and patience and 
resolution, and all that it is within the power of 
men and of women to give is being lavished here with 
prodigal hand. The very speed with which they 
equipped the place for work is a testimonial to their 
devotion. . . . For the Hospital City was born in a 
single night. 

Through the long nights of pain gentle hands are 
ready to administer comfort and tender hearts are open 
to smooth the poor lads way to the Darkness. Men 
bless their comforters here with their dying lips, in 
great, crowded wards that lie like a field of slaughter 
under dim lamps. . . . Here, where once on a time 
men and women laughed through the soft hours. 
In these wards heroic bravery is a mere commonplace 
of everyday life. You may see the most wonderful 
courage here almost at any hour the courage of pain 
borne without excitement to dull the edge of pain 

"TOMMY" 271 

borne with a jest that rings grandly from white 

In the harbour the hospital ships are waiting that shall 
carry these broken men back again to England. What a 
contrast is the sailing of these ships from the coming of 
the great troopships only a few months ago while yet 
the scythe of death was idle over these good lands. 
About this sailing is no glamour of romance, no mystery 
of expectation. These ships go silently upon the flood 
bearing their precious freight tenderly. The men are 
gathered about the decks in little groups, scarcely speak 
ing while the vessel moves so slowly away from the 
quays. Their eyes are turned towards home, towards 
England, the goal of all their aspirations. There is a 
strange light in their eyes and a strange eagerness upon 
their faces as they pass away to the open sea from this 
land of France, and their thoughts are of the gallant 
comrades who fought side by side with them through 
the long days amid the grime and the reek of blood and 
who never again will sail the seas to England. 

The night falls as you wend your way back through 
the narrow streets. But the procession of woe is not 
ended. It seems indeed to be a procession that has no 
end. In front of you and beside you and following 
you are the motor ambulances bearing each its living 
freight of devoted warriors. The cars creep so slowly 
over the rough paving-stones that are a perpetual 
trial to wounded men ; as they go their tyres make 
a curious ripping sound that will haunt you, you think, 
during all the days of your life. And again there are 
other cars passing swiftly back from the hospitals to the 

And if you would know all that this war means you 

272 TOMMY 

must go and sit by the bedsides of these heroes and 
listen for a little while to their talk. You must be pre 
pared to listen to stories that have little relation to war 
and to the affairs of war most soldiers I find are reluctant 
to speak of the things which they have seen to stories 
that concern home ties and the doings, real and con 
jectured, of children queer sentimental stories woven 
around old ideas, like the Christmas idea and the idea of 

They will fill you with wonder at first, these unwarlike 
tales, because they belong to the truly unexpected. War 
against this background of human feeling becomes 
grotesque and unreal. It seems to recede into the distance 
so that the sun may be set free upon the green fields 
and a man may speak wholesomely of the good things 
which God has given to men to speak of and think about 
and rejoice in. 

This poor fellow who is so clearly wounded to death 
will tell you of his home away in an English village where 
the doings of the vicar and the squire are the big events 
of every day. Upon that subject he is ready to pour out 
his very soul. He will tell you of his wife and his children 
and with oh, what wistfulness of his children and 
he will even continue to make merry as his strength will 
let him over the little troubles of his home life that still 
bulk large and important in his eyes. He will tell you 
how his children play and how they work and how, of an 
evening, it is his joy to play with them, the merriest of 
the group, so that his wife reproaches him with being 
more of a child than any of them. 

And this man has come down from the salient of 
Ypres, where that salient is cut by the bloody road to 
Menin. This man has stood day after day in the bitter 









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ffi % 

h g 

^^ t/3 

PQ .i 





TOMMY " 278 

trenches and faced all the hell of modern artillery and 
massed infantry. He has played his glorious part in the 
greatest battle of British history ! 

It is incredible almost one of those truths that rise 
up and smite a man between the eyes because of his un 
belief in the essential goodness of human nature. . . . 

He has no hard thoughts for the enemy, either, this 
wounded man. " They fought well," he will tell you 
readily " they are brave men " and sometimes he may 
add in those weary tones which doctors and nurses know 
so well yet never quite become accustomed to, " they 
have their children too, away at home, poor devils." 

The hospital ships come and go across the Channel, 
the ambulance cars move in perpetual procession along 
the narrow streets. Week follows week and yet the whole 
sum of this human agony is not reckoned, its measure is 
not accounted. The Angel of Death still broods over 
the fields of the dead. 

And upon this far-flung scene of hate and fierce anger 
dawns once more as of old time the Christmas morn. 
... In England, where Christmas has meant and means 
so many different things, the ancient sweetness of the 
season may well appear to have turned to bitterness at a 
moment when the world is fuller of wounded and broken 
men than ever it has been before in its history. But 
out here where the war is a commonplace of life, things 
are different. The personal value of the great feast still 
holds as it held of old time. That cannot indeed be 
debased so long as courage and good humour remain to 
mankind. The Christmas spirit is greater than a thou 
sand sorrows. 

274 " TOMMY " 

In the trenches they knew the truth of this and called to 
one another and made merry together, Briton and German, 
in spite of all the indignation of those set in authority 
over them. They knew that it is not well, nor meet, to 
raise the hand against one s fellows upon this holy day. 
For an hour or two the bonds of nation and of blood 
were merged in the common bond of humanity, and 
brave men accepted one another as the children of the 
same Spirit. . . . 

They are keeping Christmas in the hospitals and there 
is much joy there over the simple festivities. And there 
is joy along all the lines where the breath of the good 
Spirit has been breathed. For the common soldier has 
the heart of a little child and he is merry, in season, as 
children are. His good mirth is like a cleansing of a 
world befouled. 

But to some the day breaks heavily enough and with 
out light ; as you may see if you will linger in the long 
narrow street of the town that leads to the hill where 
are the graves of the fallen. It is the hill of fate by which 
they went away in the autumn days to the dreadful 
ordeal of battle. Now it is strangely quiet and lonely 
and deserted for the camps that were so joyous are 

Under the flag of England they are bringing the dead 
to their rest upon the hill over against the sea. 

The procession passes, going heavily upon the pave. 
Behind each of the rude hearses there are a few men 
with weary faces, and perhaps a woman whose grief is 
written upon her face so that all may see it. ... The 
townspeople cross themselves and turn their eyes away. 
" Will the good God have mercy upon a brave man." 

But you do not turn your eyes away. Because there is 

"TOMMY" 275 

something in this spectacle which thrills you to the very 
marrow, and fills all your heart with awe and wonder. 
That Union Jack bound upon the body of the young 
dead who have died for England, is it not a symbol at 
once strange and moving and terrible ? 

" Who stands if freedom fall ? 
Who dies if England live ? " 


IN one of his bitterest and most terrible war-cartoons 
Raemaekers, the Dutch artist, has depicted a weary 
flood filled with the bodies of dead men which float 
easily under some stunted pollard-willows. The cartoon 
is entitled " We are on the way to Calais. 3 

It is of this way to Calais, as I was privileged to see it, 
that I wish to write in this chapter, because though the 
face of the war may change out of all recognition, yet 
the great fact of the way to Calais will never change 
. . . and, so long as men live upon the world, the memory 
of it will never be suffered to grow cold. 

It is a moonlight night in February, 1915, and the land 
of north France lies chill and silent in its long flat ex 
panses. You come out of Calais by the north gate and 
take the road between the poplar trees toward Dunkirk. 
The road is crowded to-night with all manner of vehicles 
that pass in great processions, some going northward and 
others returning towards the town. The night is full 
of the grinding of heavy wheels and the throbbing of 
motor engines. Suddenly far off, down the straight 
road that lies white under the moon, you see the 
flicker of a lanthorn which swings slowly from left to 

It is the lanthorn of one of the sentries who guard 



the way to Calais. He comes to you slowly along the 
highway, carrying his rifle with bayonet fixed. You 
note that he is of the French territorial army, a tall 
fellow with a drooping moustache and dressed in the 
long blue overcoat with the turned-up flaps with which 
the whole world is now so familiar. He takes your papers 
and scrutinises them closely by the light of his lantern, 
examining all the stamps and signatures. At last he is 
satisfied. He stands back and salutes. You go on again 
into the night. 

And so by Gravelines, where King Louis thought to 
put a curb on the vaulting ambition of England in the 
brave old days, to Dunkirk, silent within her great grey 
walls that have withstood the storms and stresses of so 
many hundreds of years of this same bitter warfaring 
in the low countries. They are very busy in Dunkirk 
these days and a little excited too, for a couple of nights 
ago a Zeppelin came to the old town and dropped bombs, 
and many times the enemy s aeroplanes have buzzed over 
the central square like wasps, while they rang the tocsin 
that warned the good citizens of their danger and sent 
them to seek shelter in cellars and basements. The Hotel 
des Arcades in the central square, over which Jean Bart, 
of adventurous memory, presides upon his pedestal, is 
full to-night of English and French and Belgian officers. 
They sit together over their coffee after dinner discussing 
the latest news from the front and the prospects during 
the coming summer toward which all hopes are beginning 
to turn. 

" We have held them now for more than six months," 
says one. " Their great offensive is spent, their numbers 
are depleted. Soon it will be our turn. We shall break 
that line, believe me, and roll the two ends of it back- 


ward so that Belgium will be uncovered and France 
cleansed. And after that the Rhine." 

Brave words and words that in these days find many 
an echo. France and England and Belgium too have 
the same hope, the same expectation. At this moment 
men have not envisaged the fearful hours of Neuve 
Chapelle and the bloody trenches of Festubert, they 
have not guessed at the second Battle of Ypres, with its 
hideous accompaniments of gas and suffocation and 
slaughter. The terrors of Gallipoli and Serbia are far 
indeed from their thoughts, and the dream of the 
Russian " Road Roller is still present to every mind. 

So they are merry in the Hotel des Arcades at Dun 
kirk, these officers and airmen, who meet of a night 
within its hospitable walls after the day s adventures, or 
who return here from the bitter trenches along the Yser, 
that are so near yet seem, under the painted ceilings and 
the electric lights, to be so very far away. You may hear 
in these rooms strange tales of flights across the Belgian 
frontier by Nieuport towards Ostend, of how they 
dropped bombs on the " Archibalds 3 concealed along 
the coast, and on the military w r orks of the enemy at 
Zeebrugge, of how, one day, a German submarine was 
hit at the latter place, in her dry dock, of how a mine 
layer perished suddenly just as she left the shelter of the 
harbour from a bomb that struck her fairly amidships, 
of how the famous "mole 5 at Zeebrugge was broken so 
that the storms might complete the good work of 

And you may hear also of thrilling escapes, up there 
among the clouds, with the enemy s shrapnel bursting 
like balls of gossamer all round about. There is a tale of 
a machine that flew very low over Zeebrugge so that the 


work it was engaged upon might be the better carried 
out. They shot very near to that machine, for they cut 
the controlling wires that hold the steering gear. . . . 
But the wires were duplicated. . . . There is another 
tale of a boy in his machine hurling down bombs upon a 
great arsenal, and when his bombs were exhausted, for 
sheer joy of his emprise, emptying his pockets of small 
coins and odds and ends. 

These cavalry-men of the air are cheerful company, 
because they seem to have no care and no apprehension. 
They are good fellows in the true sense, brave and 
modest. The little stories they recount are never of 
themselves, but of mysterious " friends who remain 
nameless and whose accomplishments are spoken of off- 
handishly, as though they were the most commonplace 
events in the whole world. 

But you will not tarry long in this good circle, because 
a chance has been given you of seeing the whole of the 
way to Calais right up to the banks of the bloody Yser 
itself. So you return to the car that awaits you in the 
square and are soon creeping out again through the iron 
gates of the city on the long white road that runs by 
the canal to the northward. 

Tis the very blood-channel of the army, this road, 
and it is thronged, day and night, with vehicles of every 
description. There are the huge forage cars bearing food 
to the army of the Yser, to the men in the long trenches 
beside the floods, and there are the hospital cars moving 
delicately on the rough surface, fearful of causing their 
freight undue pain. There are, moreover, the staff cars, 
in which officers pass swiftly backwards and forwards 
upon what business no one is permitted to know. 

The convoys are very long, so that you must wait 


patiently while they creep past you, great waggon after 
great waggon grinding heavily through the mud. Some 
times it seems as though there was indeed no end to 
them at all, and the whole visible stretch of the road is 
full of them. Then they look like a huge black snake 
winding slowly across the white fields under the moon. 

By the side of this way too are derelicts, the wreckage 
of this high channel of supply. These wrecks are strange 
and even moving sights as they stand, leaning giddily 
towards the ditches, where days, or it may be months, 
ago they were abandoned. A broken wheel, a " seized 
engine, a hundred and one forms of breakdown have 
determined the end of the car s " life " in this land where 
the fittest only survive and where for the weak and in 
capable there is little room or consideration. If the car 
will not go it is left and another car is secured. Time is 
too precious to waste it upon a faulty engine. ... So 
the derelicts lie under the moon, strange objects of 
desolation, their members falling asunder, their structure 
the prey to wind and rain and storm. 

You come thus to a little village which a hundred 
years ago was witness of as strange scenes as those pre 
sently being enacted. These drab houses and this beauti 
ful old church looked down once upon a time on the 
black travelling carriage with its four swift horses which 
carried Napoleon from battle-field to battle-field. In 
this same muddy street the marshals of the First Empire 
rode together while yet that Empire was stretched across 
the face of Europe. To-day a king has come to it whose 
stainless honour has made of him the type and symbol 
of the perfect knight in the eyes of all men a king by 
the side of whom the most ambitious and powerful of 
the emperors is mean and trivial. 


There is an ancient moated house near the village, 
and here you will have a chance of seeing something of 
the way in which a great army is controlled. You will 
see business-like men, dressed as for work, sitting at little 
tables engrossed in the task each has to accomplish. 
There are many telephones in the room and many papers 
but otherwise it is like a thousand rooms, plain, and 
humble, and busy. 

Yet these telephones make it possible to communicate 
with the remote outposts away upon the islands in the 
flooded Yser district, and with the brave men who are the 
eyes and ears of the army and whose duty it is to keep 
vigil day and night lest the enemy succeed in springing a 
surprise. By these telephones have come, in the days 
that are passed, strange messages of life and death. 
" The enemy are advancing in force. We can hold him 
but a moment or two. . . . Our resistance is at an 
end. . . ." ... The far-away voice will be heard no 
more on this earth. . . . 

There are other cars waiting in the roadway to con 
tinue the strange journey. These carry no lights, for 
you are now entering the fire zone and must move with 
extreme caution. Along the miry by-roads, that were 
but farm tracks before the war made them important, 
the heavy car swings at a slow pace, seeming to feel its 
way. A single false move and the car will leave the centre 
of the road and slip into the terrible quagmire which 
threatens upon either side and from that quagmire it 
may be utterly impossible to extricate it. Happily the 
moon, to-night, has largely solved the problem, and so 
progress is relatively very good except during the showers. 

You pass by numerous hamlets, some of which seem 
to be still awake, for there are men to be seen near the 


cottage doors men who stand together darkly in groups, 
seeming to talk, yet, so far as can be heard, uttering no 
sound. ... At length the car stops. This is a village 
as big as the village where were the telephones and the 
busy officers. 

You alight and are conducted to a schoolhouse near 
at hand. The building looks deserted, but there is a 
sentry with a fixed bayonet at the door, a big bearded 
Flanders man with the kind eyes and warm smile of this 
hospitable country. He opens the door, and suddenly 
you are confronted by a scene so strange that you scarcely 
know how to interpret it. 

The hall is dimly lighted by a lamp which burns 
smokily from an iron hook in the roof. At one end a 
great fire burns, throwing a glow across the darkness 
and casting long shadows. Eddies of smoke curl and 
twist across the firelight and, rising to the roof, seem to 
darken the ceiling like a heavy fog. 

On the floor, lying side by side, are a great number of 
soldiers in the blue uniform of Belgium. And between 
the rows of the soldiers are their rifles, stacked together 
in groups of three, with the keen bayonets thrusting 
up to catch the flicker of the lamp and the glow of the 

The soldiers are not all asleep, for some of them are 
gathered into little groups. If you approach these 
groups you will discover that they are playing cards. 
Here and there, too, you will see a man reading, and 
the smoke is curling up from a very great number of 
cigarettes and pipes. 

These men came down from the trenches to-day. 
They will rest here a day or two before returning. Some 
of these men fought upon the terrible loop of the Yser 


River, and all of them have stood guard over the chill 
waters that set the limits upon the advance of the foe. 
. . . You note, yet, how cheerful they are and how 
little their cruel ordeal seems to have affected them. 
Many of them are fair-haired youths with pink and 
white faces like English lads, and these are the merriest, 
for the most part, and give an Englishman the most 
cordial welcome. You realise now if you have not 
already realised it how fine and honest are these 
Belgian soldier men, and how simple of heart. They 
are always good-natured, even in the most trying circum 
stances. They lie here on their beds of straw amid the 
gloom and the smoke as though they lay upon rich 
couches. Their jests are as merry as of old, their 
smiles as genial, their words as full of welcome. 

From the little village it is but a stone s throw to the 
fire zone, where the great shells have been doing their 
work these many, many months. You come to the fire 
zone quite suddenly, scarcely realising the transition. 
Perhaps a farm-house which had seemed so tranquil 
under the moon is revealed to you as a mere shell, already 
torn to pieces and gutted. Or you see with a thrill of 
dismay that walls which seemed solid support no roof, 
that they are torn in many places by great holes that 
gape out towards the night, that here and there they 
have fallen in upon the interior, bringing down floors 
and ceilings in the general wreckage. You see the abomin 
ation of desolation revealed suddenly in all its most 
poignant manifestations ; life has been extinguished in 
this land, and death has come to rule in her habitations. 
The face of death grins at you from empty windows 
and shattered doorways, as though peering out to see 
who is bold enough to intrude upon his chosen place. 


This is the village of , and that building which 

looks so graceful with the moonbeams slanting upon its 
turrets is the remains of the church. Go a little nearer 
and you will see that the church is sharer in the universal 
desolation, that it too has been smitten and shattered 
and destroyed. The car has been stopped and drawn 
to the side of the road it is in order that a body of men 
coming from the trenches may be free to pass without 
danger of slipping into the terrible gutter which awaits 
the unwary by the side of every road in this land. The 
soldiers march stolidly, looking neither to right nor left. 
They are very tired after their long stand in the front 
line, face to face with the enemy. It is a good thing to 
be going back again to a little rest and a little comfort. 

Now you are come to another of the white farm 
houses. This one, it seems, has been spared so far by the 
enemy shells, why it is impossible to discover. At any 
rate the roof of the building is still intact and the walls 
are unbroken. A door is opened very gingerly, so that 
no gleam of light may be shed abroad, and suddenly 
you find yourself within the narrow entrance-way, where 
in happy years the farmer s wife did the family washing 
at a great tub set for the purpose upon iron trestles. 
The door is shut quietly behind you, and you are invited 
to pass on to the living chamber at the back. Another 
door opens. Suddenly you are in the presence of the 
colonel of artillery, who makes his head-quarters in this 
little farm. 

Colonel is a soldier with a great reputation in 

the army of Belgium, and you know that this is an honour 
which has been accorded to you. He rises to greet you 
with outstretched hand. " M sieur is welcome. 3 He 
bids you be seated among the officers of his staff gathered 


around the table. He places before you the simple fare 
of soldiers the bully beef, the bread, the biscuits of 
the trenches. "It is all that we have, M sieur, but we 
eat with a good appetite and a good conscience." 

You may be excused if your appetite is not less good 
after the long drive through the keen night. You glance 
around the table at the faces of the men who are holding 
this northern door of the world against the world s 
enemy through the long winter days and nights. Kindly 
faces, quiet faces, strong faces . . . the faces of men 
who have held life at a cheap price but honour at a high. 
And you think that such men are strangely alike all the 
world over, whether they wear the dark blue of Belgium, 
or the culottes rouges of France, or the khaki of the 

" This is the artillery head-quarters of the . Out 

there are the trenches M sieur will see. Ah that was 
a gun, of course. . . . No, the enemy are not active to 
night ; had M sieur come two nights ago, for example. 
But one never knows, of course. This place has a charmed 
life perhaps but how long ? Still, c a la guerre comme la 

The simple meal which it was an honour to share is 
ended. You go out again into the night, this time on 
foot. The night is full of the moon now, and the level 
stretches of the country lie before you sweetened under 
the mysterious light. Far off to the northward you can 
see lights winking along the horizon where the enemy 
has his lines across the flood on the other bank of the 
Yser. . . . For yonder flows the Yser River, and there 
is the loop, the boucle, of terrible memory. 

It is the very field of war, this strange, quiet land 
under the white moon. This land of ruined houses and 


shattered hopes, this weeping land over which have come 
again the ancient floods so long held at bay by patient 
and tireless effort of human hands this land of the 
dyke and the pollard-willow this land of death and of 
great glory. 

You must go now very warily, neither speaking nor 
venturing to light a cigarette, for you are coming within 




D/ xmude 

The flooded area of the Yser as seen 
in February, 1915. 

range of the deadly sniper, and the moon is bright. So 
you follow in silence the going of your guide across the 
flat meadow land, by the narrow path that leads directly 
to the trenches. He has warned you already that should 
a " flare go up you must throw yourself down upon 
the ground, or at least bend very low. But though far 
away the guns are booming fitfully, and though in the 


distance night is pierced by the fierce light, the need for 
this added caution does not arise. You come to the 
railway the famous railway betwixt Dixmude and 
Nieuport in great safety. 

This line of the railway marks, as we have already 
seen, the high-water line of the German advance during 
the period of the Battle of the Yser. The enemy came 
to this railway and even crossed it in places (Ramscap- 
pelle), but he made no real progress beyond it. The 
Belgians held the railway at first with their bodies and 
later with the waters which in their extremity they were 
forced to call to their help. 

The railway at this place runs upon an embankment, 
and in the railway embankment they have built their 
third line of trenches. You go down into the cavern, 
the roof of which is made of the sleepers and the iron 
rails, and you creep along until suddenly you are in a 
long narrow chamber, very low and very small, in which 
vigilant men are keeping guard day and night. There is 
some straw on the floor, and the place is much dryer 
than you had expected. They will show you things here 
of which even yet it is impossible to write, and you will 
find here the same spirit of cheerfulness which you met 
in the schoolroom and the farm-house away to the rear. 
Nor rain nor storm nor cold has damped the enthusiasm 
of those gallant men who hold now the last acres of their 
beloved Belgium against the despoiler. 

Across the railway is the house of the points-man 
now turned to other uses, and beyond that the road 
leads to another line of trenches, and yet a little farther, 
to the front line of all. The moon is very bright now and 
it is a fairy-land spectacle that discloses itself. 

You are standing by the edge of what appears to be a 


mighty lake, the silver waters of which stretch far away 
into the distance. A light breeze plays upon the surface, 
darkening it here and there and causing little waves to 
rise like sword gleams under the moonlight. A little 
way out from the shore there is an island which seems of 
comparatively large size, and you can see that upon the 
island there are a few houses, and that amongst the 
houses a church tower rises up, very white and graceful, 
as it appears, amidst surrounding trees. But you can 
see also even at this distance that the church tower is 
shattered and broken and that only a small fragment of 
it remains. The island is like a blot of ink upon the fair 
silver of the flood. 

But as you stand entranced by this vision there comes 
to your nostrils a terrible taint of death that robs the 
scene of all its illusion of peace and beauty. It is the 
smell of corruption distilled horribly from these greedy 
waters ; the dread memorial of the struggle in the 
October days, when 18,000 men went down to death 
just here, even as Raemaekers the cartoonist has told so 
bitterly " We are on the way to Calais " you grow 
faint almost as the truth comes to you, and you touch 
your guide upon the arm to know if he too has become 
aware of it. He smiles a little and shakes his head. . . . 
And then you see him shrug his shoulders. . . . They 
were Germans who perished in these waters upon the 
way to Calais. 

Behind the front-line trenches they have kindled fires 
in huge iron braziers, and these fires glow strangely now 
against the white world around them. There is a farm 
house to the left with open doors and empty windows. 
The walls are broken down and the roof has vast rents 
in it. A door still left upon its hinges swings with a 


creaking noise that is altogether desolate. You approach 
the trenches, which are not trenches at all, but merely 
ramparts built up of sandbags and rendered waterproof 
by a rough roofing. You lift the flap that covers in 
this strange tent, and behold men are sleeping peacefully 
here, as though danger were far away from them. The 
barrels of many machine-guns gleam darkly along the 
" trench way," and you can see the strap with the ready 
bullets hanging idly from each of the breeches. You 
gaze for a moment in silent wonder. This is the front 
line of the defence, is it ? And this line is stretched in 
almost unbroken continuity from the North Sea to the 
Alps ! These tall sentries who march to and fro in front 
of the rampart of sandbags with their fixed bayonets 
are the guardians in fact of our whole civilisation. And 
then, as you are about to turn away with this great 
thought in your mind, your eye detects a cat lying 
curled up beside one of the machine-guns upon the 
straw of the trench bottom . . . the cat, perhaps, which 
in better days lived in the ruined farm-house close at 
hand. And the incongruity of it all tempts you suddenly 
to mirth, which it is hard to hold in restraint. 

But the journey is not finished, for you have per 
mission to go beyond the front-line trenches to the avant 
paste on the island in the Yser. There is much barbed 
wire in front of the trench and you must thread your 
way carefully amongst its web-like meshes. Then you 
will win free to a narrow cobbled roadway, which runs 
by the side of the water along a promontory of land which 
juts out at this place into the flood. If only there was 
not this terrible stench it would be a scene of utter 
loveliness, but you cannot escape the stench, and you 
cannot forget the meaning of it and even if you would 


forget there are dark objects apparently floating in the 
water which serve to keep memory active ! 

From the end of the promontory a dark line stretches 
across to the island. This line is made up of bundles of 
small twigs bound firmly together and laid side by side 
in the shallow water for the water is shallow at this 
place where the road used to run towards the village 
of . 

Caution must be redoubled in crossing this causeway, 
for now the sniper has you within his range and his eye 
is quick and his aim certain. So you go warily and alone, 
picking your way. And at last the quarter-mile across 
the flood is accomplished and you stand under the church 
tower amongst the brave men who are keeping this far 
outpost, which is not more than fifty yards from the out 
posts of the enemy. You walk with them through the 
little village a hamlet, no more, and they show you the 
narrow belt of water on the far side of the island which 
separates it from the next island, whereon is the enemy 
lying in wait. Only a week ago the enemy held this 
island also, but he was driven out of it at the point of 
the bayonet. Perhaps the attack will be pressed still 
farther at some future time. Meanwhile daring men 
are mapping out the floods finding, that is, the safe 
and the unsafe places the places where the water is 
deep and the places where it is shallow. Over there, by 
that tree, they have their snipers usually, so it is well to 
have a care. 

The church is utterly destroyed, so that you can 
scarcely find even the foundations of it. Only a little 
part of the chancel remains, and a little part of the tower, 
that is sharp like a needle because of the manner in which 
it has been broken. By the side of the church is the 


grave of a soldier who fell here and was buried where he 
fell. But the cross they have placed over him has been 
smitten too and is broken in one of its arms. As you 
stand silently gazing upon it Tennyson s lines in the 
Mori d? Arthur come to your memory with strange in 
sistence : 

"A broken chancel with a broken cross, 
That stood on a dark strait of narrow land ; 
On one side lay the ocean, and on one 
Lay a great water and the moon was full." 

And so back across the causeway to the trenches, and 
from the trenches to the road. It has been a wonderful 
experience and Fortune has been kind indeed. Your 
guide is frankly astonished. " I do not understand it," 
he tells you. " They are too quiet to-night. I do not 
altogether like it. ..." The car is waiting, and once 
more begins the journey along the narrow road that will 
bring you within a few minutes to the village of Pervyse, 
the very storm-centre of the Yser battle. 

It is well to alight at Pervyse, even though the chances 
of being shelled are considerable since the enemy shells 
this area with a regularity that is monotonous. Pervyse 
is the symbol and sign of Belgium at this hour ; its 
battered streets and broken-down buildings, its gutted 
houses, its terrible staring windows, its empty rooms, its 
ruined church, its opened graves are all of a piece with 
the desolation which has come to the heroic land. 
Pervyse the stricken is a microcosm of Belgium and the 
horror of Pervyse will stand as a judgment of this enemy 
inscribed in stone for all the world to see. 

You will walk through the village street and mark the 
effect of the shells. That house there belonged to the 
doctor and his brass plate is still upon the door. Note 


how a shell has opened the front of his drawing-room 
and set this sofa bulging out towards the roadway. This 
house was a private residence. All the floors have been 
battered down. The church there is utterly destroyed, 
and some of the coffins have been dug up out of the 
graves by this never-ending bombardment. 

The railway station is just beyond the church, and 
beyond the station again are the trenches. It was here 
in these fields before the station that some of the fiercest 
fighting of all the battle took place. Here it was that the 
floods caught the triumphant host which had won its 
way across the loop in the Yser River and had come to 
the railway. Men died here as flies die in a frost, men 
were drowned here as rats are drowned. 

You tarry in the trenches, spellbound by the strange 
ness of it all, and while you tarry another shell goes 
hurling into the village : the shell fails to burst, but 
you hear the crash of falling masonry. The booming of 
the guns comes fitfully along the vale. ... A chill wind 
carries the sighing of departed spirits. . . . 


TO understand the series of battles which have 
marked the course of the campaign of 1915 it is 
necessary to bear in mind the configuration of the 
country around the principal storm centre, La Bassee. 
In a previous chapter I have shown that La Bassee may 
be regarded as the southern boundary of a valley of 
which the northern boundary is formed by a string of 
dirty little villages leading towards Lille. The valley 
carries a canal and the railway, but the way of the valley 
is barred, on the one side by La Bassee and on the other 
by the villages along the ridge which is usually spoken of 
as the ridge of Aubers from the name of one of the 
villages. To the west of the Aubers Ridge stands the 
village of Neuve Chapelle, wrested from our men towards 
the close of the great battle of La Bassee, when the 
Germans were striving to break through here to the 
coast in the October days of 1914. Neuve Chapelle 
therefore formed an obvious target for a first shot at 

All the world knows the story of that shot, the splen 
dour of it, the grim courage, the success and the failure. 
Neuve Chapelle was taken and that was all. Lille, the 
object of this attack and of all those which succeeded it, 
remains still in the hands of the enemy. 



It is no part of my purpose to offer criticism concern 
ing the strategy of this battle supposing that I were in 
a position to do so. But it is not possible to pass it by 
without pausing for a moment to contemplate the sheer 
heroism of it. Never perhaps have British soldiers so 
distinguished themselves, never has the " red badge of 
courage been worn with such indisputable right. On 
this cruel field men acted as men have prayed God in 



kNcuvc ChapoJ/c 

31. The way to Lille. Neuve Chapelle was 

the first step. Following upon it came 

the Battles of the Aubers Ridge. 

every age and under every sort of condition that they 
might act without fear and without reproach. 

Alas ! those boys who charged over the fields towards 
the little village and who will charge across the fields of 
France no more, those boys who gave all without a 
whimper, without a backward glance though life was 
a rare vintage only just tasted by eager lips. We shall 
not look upon their like again. And those of them who 
returned across the ranks of the dead under a hot fire, 


they came slowly, almost carelessly, so that the enemy 
might see how a Briton takes care of his life. Some of 
them stopped to light cigarettes before they strolled 
back across the ranks of the dead as a German who saw 
them has testified. 

But heroism does not of itself win battles, and so the 
great hopes which were aroused by Neuve Chapelle were 
doomed to disappointment. The stubborn height of 
La Bassee remained to the foe, and so also did the dreary 
ridge of Aubers and the little villages and the brick 
fields, and the great city of Lille beyond them all. 

The battle here has no end indeed, though you may 
pick out special hours of intense fighting and call them 
battles. The fighting at Festubert in May was of a piece 
with this same advance upon Lille, and so was the fight 
ing at Loos in the autumn days of last September. Also 
the great effort of the French at Arras, by Carency and 
Souchez, which had as its object the taking of Lens, was 
really but another phase of the struggle for the " Man 
chester of France with all its wealth of material and 
industrial resource. 

Yet let it not be supposed that these terrific conflicts, 
the history of which is as yet almost unwritten at least 
as regards details were without value because they have 
not yet been crowned with success. This battle is not 
of a day, nor yet of a week. It is a battle of years. The 
Battle of the Aisne, we say, ended in three weeks. But 
the truth is that the Battle of the Aisne is not yet ended. 
So the Battle of La Bassee is not yet ended, and the Battle 
of Loos, and the Battle of Souchez, and the Battle of 
Arras all of which are in reality the " Battling for Lille. 3 
Years hence men will see this work whole who have not 
been forced to wait through weary months for some 


completion, and then they will know how much or how 
little value each of these separate phases of the struggle 
really possessed, and be able to see in what way this per 
petual warfare contributed to the great final result. 




Lo fVv5f*ce 





32. The line from Armentieres to Arras during the 

Spring of 1915. Loos has since been 

taken, as also has Souchez. 

They will study this line from Armentieres to Arras 
with new vision, and the conclusions which they will 
draw will assuredly be different from those which to-day 
are apt to compel our attention. 


But if I may not dwell upon this heroic struggling for 
Lille, I must indeed invite my reader to return to the 
terrible salient before Ypres, that we may follow, however 
imperfectly, the second assault made by the enemy 
against this hapless city. For the second Battle of Ypres 
is like the first battle in one respect only the fact that 
it was fought over the same ground. In all other respects 
it is a battle by itself standing alone in the history of 
our warfare alike by reason of its devilish ferocity and by 
reason of the fact that in this encounter Britain s great 
colony was the direct means of her salvation. 

It is the month of April, and as the days lengthen out 
a great peace comes to this land of Flanders. It is the 
peace of spring, full of the new gladness of awakening 
life. The days are sunny and the skies clear, and a genial 
warmth comes again to the trenches where men have 
suffered all the chills and pains of winter. 

This day, Thursday, April 22, is almost perfect in 
its serenity. Not a cloud is in the sky. Scarcely a breath 
of wind disturbs the wide silence. The men in the 
trenches are full of good spirits ; and you may hear them 
singing as they go about their work in the rest-stations 
behind the lines and in the great depots at the bases. 
The afternoon grows old under a rich sky that, as it 
darkens, is filled with gorgeous colourings, crimson and 
saffron and gold, spread like a banner to the western 
horizon. . . . With the sunsetting comes a light breeze, 
blowing softly from the north-east over the rolling lands 
by Roulers towards Ypres. 

The salient about the city of Ypres is held on this 
night by troops drawn from the very ends of the earth. 
The north of the salient is guarded by the French 
Colonials, and linked up with them are the Canadians, 


who again join hands with the British farther south. 
The Canadians are holding 500 yards of trenches from 
the Ypres-Roulers railway to the Ypres-Poelscapelle 
road. The Third Infantry Brigade of the Canadian 
Division joins hands with the French Colonials, the second 
with the British, while the third is in reserve. 

The Canadian soldiers are new as yet to this game of 
war, and are therefore glad that the enemy seem to be 
resting in their trenches and that the ordeal of battle 
has been delayed. On this exquisite April evening they 
have little thought of any danger for the very beauty 
of the sky, which all these men remember so well, seems 
to be a guarantee that no ill shall befall. 

But suddenly an uneasy thrill runs along the crowded 
trench. " What was that ? Did you hear it ? " Men 
look at one another anxiously, every man aware that 
something has happened, no man understanding exactly 
the nature of the misfortune. Away to the left there is 
sound of heavy firing though that in itself is common 
place enough and suddenly the " buzzer " in the trench 
is sounded vigorously. In a few moments these Canadian 
lads know that this telephone message is of most serious 
import. The order is passed, " You are to hold the 
trench at all costs." 

" We stood there," a boy who passed through those 
terrible hours told me a few days later, " and our hearts 
thumped against our ribs. So at last we were in for it. 
We didn t know even yet what had happened, because 
we were not near enough to the end of the line to see 
the retirement of the French Colonials, and the reason 
of their retirement. Each man had his kit strapped to 
his shoulders and his rifle loaded. 

" You cannot realise what those moments of acute 


tension are like unless you have lived through them. 
Then a man feels a coward in the most abject sense, and 
he wants to run away more than anything else in the 
world. All sorts of queer notions come thumping into 
his mind thoughts of home and happy thoughts of 
happy days and then wonder that he should be here 
in this dreadful position, and anger great anger that it 
should be so. I have seen men almost go mad just with 
this anger. . . . 

" You want to run away . . . but somehow you don t 
do it. Somehow you manage to laugh and talk nonsense 
to the man next you, and pretend it doesn t matter a 
little bit, and that you like it and have hoped it would 
happen if only you could keep your knees from trem 
bling so and your heart from shaking you as a dog shakes 
a rat. 

" And then all of a sudden the ground in front of us 
seemed to open, and up sprang the enemy, of whom we 
had seen so little, and began to run straight at us with 
fixed bayonets. It was a most strange and horrible sight. 
The Germans were shouting, and they seemed mad in 
the short moment that you could see them. For a 
moment our curiosity nearly got the better of our dis 
cretion. Then we settled down to give them a real 
Canadian welcome. We shot and shot till our gun barrels 
were almost red-hot but the more we killed the more 
of them there seemed to be. And meanwhile, of course, 
shells were bursting all about us. 

; I don t remember much more. I know there was 
an awful gassy smell that seemed to draw all his breath 
out of a man s body, and then I remember a loud order 
to retire to the trench behind by way of the communica 
tion trench. The new trench had water in it, but we got 


back all right, and we took our wounded with us. After 
that I don t remember much. We fought and fought. 
Some of the gas got to us, and some of our men went 
down with it. Our eyes were red and inflamed and our 
brains were on fire. We were covered with mud from 
head to foot, and our faces were flaming red with hate 
and rage, and the awful fumes made us double up with 
coughing. But we fought on. We fought and fought 
as we went back, so that our rifles jammed and were 
useless, and we threw them away and took others from 
the bodies of the dead. I saw one great fellow stand 
up above the trench and kick the bolt of his rifle home, 
and he didn t get a scratch. We hung together till 
the night came down, and then we lost ourselves till 
we came to the road which, I think, was the road to 
St. Julien," 

This boy had been spared the worst torment : it is 
not so to the left, near the place where the French 
Colonials have been driven from their trenches. For 
here the poison cloud of the enemy has come in all its 
terrible strength the deadly chlorine gas which devilish 
minds have conceived in calm hours and have launched, 
as the result of deliberate calculation, against foes who 
stood all unprepared against it. 

If you have doubt of it look at the men as they lie 
huddled in the trenches tearing at their throats for 
breath the while their eyes bulge fearfully from the 
sockets and their faces grow grey and then black under 
the torment. See the blood foam on their lips and 
behold how with dying hands they tear at the sides of 
the trenches, breaking their nails upon the wooden boards. 
And then see the German " conquerors rush upon 
them, when the cloud has gone by, and bayonet them 


swiftly while yet they writhe in this agony. Is it not a 
sight for eternal remembrance ? And see at another part 
of the line upon what hell s work are they engaged ! 
This man whom they have taken is a Canadian sergeant, 
and because he has fought bitterly against them and 
because they dream that at last, by means of their gas, 
Ypres will fall, they are having their vengeance upon him 
yonder by the door of this ruined homestead. See them 
force him against the wooden door and hold him out 
stretched in front of it. See them drive their bayonets 
through his outstretched palms and through his feet as 
the accursed of old times drove the iron nails upon the 
hill at Calvary. And hear the mockery with which they 
greet his dying sorrow. ... It is enough, is it not ? to 
wring tears from the very stones that are the silent 
witnesses of it ? And in what days will the men and 
women of our race forget the things which are afoot 
under the still sky before the towers of the old town in 
Flanders ? 

The French Colonials are driven back, since no 
man may live in this inferno. The salient of Ypres, so 
long intact, is broken. The line, which in the October 
days was cemented with blood, is a line no longer. 
In its course, now, there is a huge rent. The line is smitten 
asunder. The Canadian left hangs at this hour unsup 
ported, " in mid air." 

The position indeed as the night falls is desperate. 
Great masses of the enemy are advancing against 
the line determined to push on to the possessing of 
the coveted city. An inferno of shells embroils the 
retreating troops. " Gassed men crawl like spent 
animals along the fields and byways, dying miserably in 
their tracks as poisoned vermin die. As the night falls 


there is wild confusion upon all the roads leading to the 
town. The St. Julien road presents such a scene as the 
eyes of men have rarely witnessed. It is strewn with 
dead and dying men, with dead and dying horses. The 
Canadians are retreating along this road and they are 
fighting bitterly as they go. At one point the advancing 
Germans come almost to the muzzles of a detachment 
of artillery, and the appalling sight is witnessed of the 
big guns firing at point-blank range into this mass of 
reeling and screeching human beings. The Germans are 
mown down like corn and fall in a heap that lies 


33 The hole in the line at Ypres made by the 

poison gas. 

writhing under the pale sky. The crying of the sorely 
wounded and the groans of the dying are mingled 
with the roar of the battle. 

Meanwhile, to the west of St. Julien, the Canadian 
Scottish are at work recovering the four British guns 
which were lost earlier in the evening. What a feat this 
is for the world to wonder at ! There is a moon, and the 
men can see the dark wood quite clearly in front of them. 
Their officers form them quickly into four lines. The 
first line rushes forward with fixed bayonets and re 
gardless of the bitter fire which is poured into them. 
Then the second line follows, parsing on through the 
first line and carrying well past it. And then the third 


line after the fashion of the second ; and then the 

The bugle sounds : and then all four lines rush again 
to the charge together. The Germans fight fiercely 
enough, but they are unable to stand this final blow. 
They dwindle away. . . . 

And so on until the guns are taken. . . . 

And all this Thursday night, unbeknown to the fight 
ing men, a great movement is being carried out which to 
morrow will resound through all the continents of the 
world. This is nothing less than the shutting of the 
open door in the face of the enemy and the plucking 
away from him of the advantage given by his cloud of 

The Canadians are being brought back with a swiftness 
which is almost miraculous they are defeating, with 
every step they take to the rear, the purpose of the 
enemy. Villages must be abandoned in this retreat, 
and points of vantage given up. But what of it ? The 
salient shall be saved ; Ypres shall be saved ; the Allied 
line from the sea to the Alps shall be saved. 

This closing of the door is, indeed, a great achieve 
ment, the importance of which it is impossible to over 
estimate. It is so swift, so sudden, so thorough that a 
man can only regard it with amazement. There is no 
praise too high for it and no thankfulness too profound. 
. . . Yet what sacrifices are being made that it may be 
carried out ! 

They fall back to the village of St. Julien, a devoted 
band who will sell their lives, here in the muddy street, 
but will not yield them. Gas is poured upon them by 
the advancing enemy on these days, Friday, 23rd, Satur 
day, 24th and again the fearful scenes of Thursday are 


witnessed, only it would seem in greater profusion. But 
the men do not break ; they do not yield. Never have 
such stubborn fighters stood in the way of the Kaiser s 
ambition as upon these days. 

The situation becomes more and yet more critical, 
and it is seen that if the closed door is to be held a further 
retirement must be carried out. St. Julien must be 
evacuated. And a rearguard must be furnished. . . . 

Who will stay to guard the rear, in this village of death, 
and with no hope of salvation ? 

Cc\ nod ions 



34. How they shut the door at Ypres and 
saved the line. 

The official record is cold and formal, as are all official 
records, but perhaps, in these circumstances, it is enough : 
" a gallant handful was left in the village for this pur 
pose. They are left to die, and every man of them knows 
it ... to die hard and bitterly, and as slowly as may be 
possible ... to die fighting, with their backs to the 
wall and their faces towards the enemy. 

It is reported that they have indeed fulfilled their 

And $o this Saturday night is witness of one of the 


most shining examples of heroism in the whole campaign, 
a heroism like that of Horatius at the Bridge, like that of 
the Gracchi. 

The line is closed at last and the acute danger is ended, 
though there are terrible days to be encountered yet 
before this second Battle of Ypres shall be ended and the 
last assaults upon the town repelled. Ypres itself is like 
a shambles. The townspeople have fled away from it 
and the splendid town-hall is reduced to a battered ruin. 
The glorious towers are riddled and torn by innumerable 
shells, the houses surrounding are thrashed to pieces by 
the iron hail, all the roadways leading into the town are 
under a perpetual bombardment. And in the streets 
dead men and dead horses lie piled together in confusion. 
As an artilleryman wrote in his diary: "Valley of the 
shadow of death. You must gallop with all your might 
through the town, as the enemy have guns laid on all 
the cross roads and bridges. Takes a cool head to go 

The battle ends and a new battle begins. Having 
failed to burst in the salient the enemy attempt to re 
take Hill 60 at the south angle of the salient, where the 
Ypres to Commines canal goes southward through a deep 
cutting. To the north of Ypres they have already suc 
ceeded in crossing the canal at Het Sas the so-called 
" Yperlee " Canal, running between Ypres and Dixmude 
and if they can but cross in this place also they will 
be able to isolate the town. 

So a bitter warfaring is begun for the hill, and also for 
the salient, the attacks alternating with almost monoto 
nous regularity, yet without any real success. . . . For 
success is no longer possible. The gas attack has failed* 
and now measures are being taken to provide the men 



against the gas danger, while away to the southward at 
Festubert and Arras our troops and the French are bring 
ing heavy pressure to bear against the German lines and 
so rendering it necessary to draw away troops from the 
area of the bloody salient. 

Ypres is spared once again. But once again her fields 

35. The re-formed Allied line, showing the crossing 
of the canal effected against the French by means of 
the first gas attack and the later attacks on Hill 60. 

are drenched with rich blood, and once again, between 
the trenches, the unburied dead look up to the fair sky. 
Yet they died not in vain. For here on the fields of Ypres 
the world has been reborn of their blood and the serpent 
of tyranny and oppression has been scotched. In the days 
to come the losses of these fearful days and nights will be 
made good the French have already cleared the western 


bank of the canal to the northward of the town, and once 
more Hill 17, near Pilkem, is in our hands. In the days 
to come others will reap where these sowed, and reap 
too a great and glorious harvest. Their blood will indeed 
prove itself the seed of a new, a better world, as the 
curse of their undoing will be laid for ever at the door 
of their murderers. 


IT is once again the old town, with the hill rising up 
behind it, and the road leading away over the hill 
across the mystery land of France. And once again the 
old town is awaiting the coming of men from over the 
sea who shall join in the good combat against darkness 
for the light. And once again there are little knots of 
spectators in the dark streets, under the moon, talking 
together anxiously of the great doings beyond the hill. 

But on this night you may mark many features which 
were not a part of that other coming long months ago, 
as it seems, in the green youth of the world, before they 
wrought the horror that has changed all things. On this 
night you may see, for example, the slow ambulances 
coming forth from the railway station, each with its 
little flickering light, and moving at snail s pace over the 
cobbles to the wooden swing bridge, and so along the 
harbour wall to the hospitals. And you may see the long 
ambulance trains with their red crosses drawn up out 
side of the station to await fresh orders, and you may 
see the tall masts of the hospital ships lying in the 

But you are accustomed to it all to the ambulances 
and the trains and the ships, and also to the perpetual 
stream of doctors and ambulance men that flows across 



the wooden bridge, surging from the hospitals to the 
hotels and the stations. And so you scarcely notice these 
things. Your eyes are fixed rather upon the great flares 
that they are lighting now upon the quay-head to be a 
guide to the brave feet that will so soon be set ashore 
upon this land of France. 

And as you wait there comes a sound of marching that 
is like the sound of waves beating pleasantly upon the 
shore. And then into the ring of the dancing light, like 
dream figures, they emerge, rank upon rank, regiment 
upon regiment, the young men of the New Britain that 
is awaking overseas and stirring itself towards mighty 
endeavour. The light gathers them, as it were, within 
a golden circle, picking out their faces beneath their caps 
and their knees where they shine white below swinging 

A thrill goes through you for very joy of this great 

What men these who have given themselves freely to 
the service of their country, not as conscripts, but as 
saviours ! The very faces of them are a triumph and an 
inspiration, lean hard faces that glow in the red light 
with the beauty of strength and health. The faces of 
such a breed of men as this world has but seldom known 
in all its ages. 

They are forming up quickly into two long lines that 
stretch away to the utmost limits of the circle of the 
light. They stand stiffly at attention, heads raised, 
bodies erect ; they have all the pride of a great people 
in their eyes ; and all the modesty of boys who are but 
just come to manhood. Their officers move about 
amongst them, arranging and inspecting. 

Suddenly a sharp word of command rings out in the 


stillness of the night. The ranks begin to march towards 
the old wooden bridge. You hear the heavy boots 
resounding upon the timbers. A voice from the crowd 
cries Vive PAngleterre," and from the ranks a voice 
answers " Vive la France." A woman sings the chorus of 
the forgotten " Tipperary," and the lilt of it comes 
strangely, reviving old memories. 

And then suddenly there breaks out, like a great cry 
upon this night silence, the wailing of the pipes of 
Lochiel that the Cameron men may march worthily to 
their ordeal. ... It is such an hour as men dream of 
but are seldom privileged to live in ; an hour when a 
man s heart is called forth in full flood and his spirit is 
glorified within him. 

Oh, do you hear the pipes wailing and storming their 
way through the grey streets and by the dark, bastioned 
walls ? Do you hear them take the road that is the road 
of glory and of death ? Do you hear the calling of them 
from the heights that lie over against the battle ? 

They are telling of a new world, these pipes of the men 
of the new Army. They are telling of a world of stirring 
faith and high endeavour, of great adventure and of fair 
chivalry. The young men have indeed seen visions who 
follow the pipes through the streets of the French town, 
and who will follow them to the bitter trenches and the 
stricken field. The old order is already changed, the 
old values already discredited. All things are become 
new. It is the dawn. 



. M22